An across-the-board study of 80 single women from age 20 to 78, representing different races, regions, and backgrounds. The trouble with this approach is that the dust hasn't quite settled from feminism; consequently, when the author can't choose between the terms ""never married"" or ""ever single,"" or when she reports that singles in their twenties are cheerful copers, while those in their thirties go through something of a crisis, we don't quite know whether we're witnessing stage theory or a gradual lessening of ""ambiguity and conflict"" as the decades progress. Peterson, a single who graduated from a Midwestern college in the early Sixties, insists that we should shed no tears for the singles: even the older variety seem to have led full, productive lives of ""autonomy, independence, and freedom versus the restrictions that conventional marriage implies."" (This despite the indisputable finding that older women have been barred from sexual activity by the mores of the past, while younger women fall prey to a ""frenetic quality, the almost forced range of experience"" that Peterson finds no more liberating.) Peterson was unable to discover why women remain single, though they almost always have some choice; such women can be the products of either happy or unhappy marriages, small or large families, first or last birth-rank. But some conclusions were drawn: despite their ""freedom,"" many were intensely sorry to miss an opportunity at motherhood. And many of those who never married had a ""permission giver"" in their background: typically a mother or other close female associate who communicated, directly or indirectly, that it was acceptable for a woman to pursue a different path. The pickings are slim for those who favor definitive findings; but there is some support for single women in the stories told of men who left or were left, self-esteem lost and regained.