Relationships

What Percentage of People Struggle to Find Romance?

New research explores the prevalence of long-term involuntary singlehood.

Posted Dec 11, 2019

Lee Haywood / Flickr
Source: Lee Haywood / Flickr

If you've ever felt like you might be the last person on Earth to find true love, you should take solace in knowing that you are not alone. Far from it, actually.

New research appearing in the journal Evolutionary Psychology finds that approximately half of the adult population experiences difficulties in intimate relationships and spends considerable time being single.

"Recent studies indicate that a considerable proportion of individuals experience poor mating performance, meaning that they face difficulties in attracting and retaining mates," state Menelaos Apostolou and Yan Wang, the authors of the study. "We attempted to examine mating performance, and the occurrence and length of singlehood in a Greek and a Chinese sample. We found that, in both samples, about half of the participants experienced difficulties in intimate relationships."

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited 884 Greek adults and 2,041 Chinese adults to participate in a short online survey. In the survey, the researchers asked participants to rate themselves on the following four items: "I do well in romantic relationships," "I find romantic relationships difficult," "I find it easy to start a romantic relationship," and "I find it easy to keep a romantic relationship."

Participants were also asked to provide demographic information, such as age, sex, and marital status.

They found that, in both the Greek and Chinese samples, more than half of adults reported being single. For some, this reflected a preference for singlehood. For others, it had to do with the difficulty of attracting and retaining a partner. Specifically, they found that 24.9% of Greek adults and 22.0% of Chinese adults experienced significant difficulties with romantic relationships. They also reported that approximately 20% of Greek singles had been single for more than three years and approximately 50% of Chinese singles had never been in a relationship.

Examining for differences between the Greek and Chinese samples, the researchers noted that voluntary singlehood was much more common in China than it was in Greece. They also reported that the prevalence of marriage was higher in Greece than in China (18.7% versus 13.4%). According to the researchers, these differences may stem from Chinese disapproval of adolescent romantic relationships. The authors write, "In China, teachers and parents are disapproving adolescents' romantic relationships [...]. Growing up with this background, many young people, especially those who have been single until graduating from high school, would hold the view that it is fine to wait for the emergence of romance naturally without any purposeful efforts."

Cultural differences aside, the fact still stands that many people struggle to find romance. Why might this be? The researchers view a mismatch between modern society and our evolutionary heritage as one possible explanation. For example, people spend much more time today building their strengths and pursuing their careers than ever before. This is necessary given the technological sophistication of the modern workplace and the time it takes an individual to become a valuable member of the workforce. However, it comes at the cost of entering relationships and starting families later than optimal from an evolutionary standpoint.

Whatever the explanation, the researchers worry that the trend toward singlehood may have negative societal consequences, manifesting in the form of increased loneliness and sparser family ties. They believe that psychological interventions tailored to help people overcome the challenges of singlehood will be increasingly important in the years ahead. They conclude, "The present data make a strong case that a considerable proportion of the adult population in the post-industrial context experiences poor performance in the domain of mating and is involuntarily single. In addition, for many people, singlehood is not temporary but long-lasting."

References

Apostolou, M., & Wang, Y. (2019). The Association Between Mating Performance, Marital Status, and the Length of Singlehood: Evidence From Greece and China. Evolutionary Psychology, 17(4), 1474704919887706.