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Are Single People Happy?

... and why those who aren't tend to be male.

Key points

  • Since intimate relationships are associated with better mental health, some people assume singles are dissatisfied with singlehood or life.
  • New research suggests single individuals are, in general, satisfied with both singlehood and life.
  • People with lower singlehood satisfaction are more likely to be men, older, more educated, or in worse health.
StockSnap/Pixabay
Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Are single people happy? Does their level of happiness change over time? If they are happy, what is the source of their positive feelings—is it satisfaction with being single or satisfaction with life in general? These are some of the questions that recent research—by Oh et al., to be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin—attempted to answer.

Investigating Singlehood and Life Satisfaction

Participants were selected from a German longitudinal investigation. There were three cohorts and 10 waves of yearly data collection. The sample consisted of 3,439 participants (across ten waves)—age range of 14 to 39 years old at the beginning of the study. The great majority of singles had never married, 5 percent had separated or divorced, and 0.2 percent were widowed.

The sample also included participants who were not single initially (i.e., at Wave 1) but became single later (if they provided three or more waves of data on singlehood satisfaction). The majority of these individuals had been in “non-cohabiting romantic relationships” during the first wave.

The investigation used two measures.

  • Satisfaction with singlehood: “How satisfied are you with your situation as a single?”
  • Life satisfaction: “All in all, how satisfied are you with your life at the moment?”

The Association Between Singlehood Satisfaction and Life Satisfaction

The results showed a “positive lagged bidirectional association between singlehood satisfaction and life satisfaction.” In particular:

  • Higher singlehood satisfaction predicted higher life satisfaction a year later.
  • Higher life satisfaction predicted higher singlehood satisfaction a year later.

In general, life satisfaction was more strongly predictive of future singlehood satisfaction than the opposite. Specifically, the effect was three times larger in the first case.

Put differently, in most cases, being happy overall was “associated with living a happy, single life,” whereas only in some cases, being happily single was “associated with being happier overall.”

Another important finding was that all single people were not equally satisfied. Typically, those less satisfied with their singlehood were “men, people with more education, worse health, and lower life satisfaction.”

Although single individuals tended to be generally satisfied with being single and with their lives, analysis of data showed that both types of satisfaction declined over the years. Why?

Consider the decline in life satisfaction first. Perhaps the singles who were satisfied with their lives, compared to those unsatisfied, were more inclined to form partnerships. So, with the happiest people out of the study, the average life satisfaction in the sample was reduced.

As for the decline in singlehood satisfaction, there is no simple explanation. But it is important to note that romantic relationship satisfaction and marital happiness often decline as well as the years go by.

Why Are Single People Satisfied?

As noted, the data suggest single people are happier and more satisfied with their lives than commonly believed. But aren’t there good reasons for expecting singles to be unhappy? After all, aren’t relationships important for well-being and mental health—whereas loneliness is linked with mental illness and physical health conditions, such as pain?

While it is true that we all need to belong, romantic relationships are not the only way to meet belongingness needs, as previous research has shown. For instance, compared to married individuals, singles are more inclined to provide and receive support from friends, neighbors, parents, and brothers or sisters.

In the present investigation, especially for individuals “going in and out of relationships,” their “relationships with friends and family predicted their life satisfaction while their singlehood satisfaction did not.”

And for those who were single most of the time, “their relationships predicted life satisfaction to a similar extent as singlehood satisfaction.”

susungkim/Pixabay
Source: susungkim/Pixabay

Concluding Thoughts on Singlehood, Happiness, and Life Satisfaction

The present findings challenge common assumptions about individuals not in a romantic relationship: that they are unhappy and unsatisfied. “On average,” the reviewed study found, singles are “on the satisfied side with both their lives and singlehood” So, happy singles do exist. And in large numbers.

The level of satisfaction with singlehood depends on a variety of factors. Individuals with higher singlehood satisfaction, the data showed, are more likely to be women, younger, have less education, and be in better health.

It is important to remember that singles are not a homogeneous group. For instance, some have never had a romantic partner; others have been in a romantic relationship before, though they have never been married. In addition, there is a difference between choosing to be single and failing to find a suitable partner—or singlehood that results from being divorced or widowed.

In short, just knowing that someone is single does not tell us what being single means to them (e.g., how strongly it predicts their life satisfaction) or how they fulfill their belongingness needs.

Future research should examine different causes of singlehood to help determine why some singles report greater satisfaction with life and being single than do others.

Facebook image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

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