Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

How Many People Choose to Be Single?

Here's why we don't know the real answer

How many single people really choose to be single? That’s a question I am asked fairly often, typically by people who are skeptical that even one person would really want to live outside of Married Couples Land.

One way to approach that question is to look at survey data. For example, a 2010 Pew Research Report described the results of a national survey of single people. Asked if they wanted to get married, only 46% said yes, for sure (Taylor, 2010). Twenty-five (25) percent said no—these are the single people who are choosing to be single. Another 29% said they were not sure.

Among those single people who had been married in the past, even more of them—46%—are choosing to stay single.

What we do not know is how many people would choose to be single if single people were not the targets of stereotyping and discrimination and all of the other forms of singlism. What if society regarded single life as just as valid as any other life? Then how many people who choose to be single?

We may like to think that 21st century citizens of America and of the world are oh-so-sophisticated, but in fact, there are social costs to something as innocuous as saying that you are happy, if you are single, and saying that you choose to be single.

For example, in a study Wendy Morris and I did (not yet published), we found that when married people say they are happy, other people believe them. But when single people say they are happy, other people do not believe them. They think the single people are exaggerating—they are only saying they are happy, when really they are not.

Those skeptics who want to believe that no one would actually choose to be single come armed with their emotions. Three Israeli researchers (Slonin, Gur-Yaish, & Katz, 2010 conference paper) understood this: They predicted that people would actually be angry at single people who said that they chose to be single. They would judge those single people much more harshly than single people who said they wanted to have a long-term romantic relationship.

That’s just what they found. The people in their research expressed more anger toward the single people who said they chose to be single, compared to the ones who said they wanted to be in a romantic relationship.

They also made all sorts of negative judgments about the single people who chose to be single. They said those single people were lonelier, more miserable, less warm, and less sociable than the single people who did not want to be single.

I think there are people who not only choose to be single, but who choose it with enthusiasm. Readers of this blog know how I describe such people (I’m one of them)—they are single at heart. (Here’s some of what I’ve written about the single-at-heart, including some survey results.) I want the concept to become more familiar. Then more single people will realize that there is an alternative to the hunt for The One—they can live their single lives fully, joyfully, and unapologetically.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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