A bachelor is a man above the age of majority who has never been married (see single). A man who was formerly married is not a bachelor but rather is a divorcé or a widower (except in cases where the marriage was legally annulled, in which case there was legally no marriage—especially if it was never consummated).
The term is sometimes restricted to men who do not have and are not actively seeking a spouse or other personal partner. For example, men who are in a committed relationship with a personal partner (female or male) to whom they are not married are no longer generally considered "bachelors," but neither are they considered married. Thus, a broad grey, unnamed status has emerged between the concepts of "bachelor" and "married man."
Research done by sociologists Richard Pitt and Elizabeth Borland sharpens the definition of bachelor to mean "men who live independently, outside of their parents' home and other institutional settings, who are neither married nor cohabitating" for just this reason. They discovered that these bachelors were more liberal in their attitudes towards women's roles in society; this was not the case for those men who were only "unmarried".
During the Victorian Era, the term "confirmed bachelor" often was used as a euphemism for a gay man and is currently still in use in the United States and Great Britain. In spite of the wider acceptance of gay people and same-sex relationships in recent years there are only little changes in this historic usage. Meanwhile, the term "confirmed bachelor" can also refer to heterosexual men who show no interest in marriage or classes of committed relationships.
"Most eligible bachelor" is a generic term for a published listing of bachelors considered to be desirable marriage candidates. Usually "most eligible bachelor" lists are published on an annual basis and present listed men in a ranked order.
The word is from Old French bacheler "knight bachelor", a young squire in training, ultimately from Latin baccalarius, a vassal farmer. The Old French term crossed into English around 1300, referring to one belonging to the lowest stage of knighthood. Knights bachelor were either poor vassals who could not afford to take the field under their own banner, or knights too young to support the responsibility and dignity of knights banneret. From the 14th century, the term was also used for a junior member of a guild, otherwise known as "yeomen", or university; hence, an ecclesiastic of an inferior grade, e.g. a young monk or even recently appointed canon (Severtius, de episcopis Lugdunen-sibus, p. 377, in du Cange).
"Bachelor" can also refer to those holding a "bachelor's degree" from a university (or a four-year college, in the American system of higher education). In this sense the word baccalarius or baccalaureus first appears at the University of Paris in the 13th century, in the system of degrees established under the auspices of Pope Gregory IX, as applied to scholars still in statu pupillari. Thus there were two classes of baccalarii: the baccalarii cursores, theological candidates passed for admission to the divinity course; and the baccalarii dispositi, who, having completed this course, were entitled to proceed to the higher degrees. The term baccalaureus is a pun combining the prosaic baccalarius with bacca lauri "laurel berry" — according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "bacca" is the Old Irish word for "farmer" + laureus, "laurel berry," the idea being that a "baccalaureate" had farmed (cultivated) his mind.
The sense of "unmarried man" dates to 1385. The feminine bachelorette is from 1935, replacing earlier bachelor-girl. In 19th century American slang to bach was used as a verb meaning "to live as an unmarried man".
In Athens there was no definite legislation on this matter; but certain minor laws are evidently dictated by a spirit akin to the Spartan doctrine. In Rome, though there appear traces of some earlier legislation in the matter, the first clearly known law is that called the Lex Julia, passed about 18 BC. It does not appear to have ever come into full operation; and in AD 9 it was incorporated with the Lex Papia et Poppaea, the two laws being frequently cited as one, Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea. This law, while restricting marriages between the several classes of the people, laid heavy penalties on unmarried persons, gave certain privileges to those citizens who had several children, and finally imposed lighter penalties on married persons who were childless.
Isolated instances of such penalties occur during the Middle Ages, e.g. by a charter of liberties granted by Matilda I, countess of Nevers, to Auxerre in 1223, an annual tax of five solidi is imposed on any man qui non habet uxorem et est bache-larius ("who does not have a wife and is a bachelor"). In Great Britain there has been no direct legislation bearing on bachelors; but, occasionally, taxes have been made to bear more heavily on them than on others. Instances of this are an Act passed in 1695; the tax on servants, 1785; and the income tax, 1798.
In some cultures, the "punishment" of bachelors is no more than a teasing game. In small towns in Germany, for example, men who were still unmarried on their 30th birthday were made to sweep the stairs of the town hall until kissed by a virgin. This "punishment" (Treppe fegen) is still practised today in parts of Northern Germany. Similarly, in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, a man is called a pebersvend and may receive a giant pepper grinder on his 30th birthday if unmarried.