Most Singles in the US, UK, and China Love Being Single

Ad agency warns marketers to stop patronizing single people.

Posted Oct 27, 2019

When advertisements stereotype a group of people and get away with it, that probably means that there is little awareness that there is anything wrong with the portrayal. Rather than being seen as an unfair stereotype or caricature, the characterization is accepted as a simple reflection of the way things are.

I’ve been scrutinizing advertisements for as long as I have been studying single people. A decade or two ago, much of what I observed was unapologetically cruel. In a series of ads for ditech, for example, a single man was portrayed as a pudgy, clueless mama’s boy who kept losing out to the competition.

Wunderman Thompson -- today’s version of the legendary advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson – has something to say to their fellow professionals in the marketing world about that dismissive and condescending depiction of single people: Knock it off.

Their advice is based on data. The research arm of the agency, JWT Intelligence, surveyed 1,000 people, 18 and older, in each of three countries – the US, the UK, and China. Half of the participants in each country were in committed romantic relationships (including marriages) and the others were single. The findings were summarized in “The Single Age” report, published earlier this year.

The single people in all three nations described their single lives in very positive ways. At least three-fifths of the single people in each country said they loved being single. In the UK, 60% of the single people said that. In the US, it was 64%, and in China, 73%.

At least half of the single people in each nation said that they preferred being single to being in a committed romantic relationship. In China, 50% said they preferred single life to coupled life. In the UK, 53% said they preferred to be single, and in the US, the comparable figure was 58%.

I would like to know more about how the research was done. For example, were the samples representative of the adults in each country? What was the precise wording of each question? I would also like to know how the participants in all three countries responded to all of the questions. Unfortunately, those details are only available in the full report, for which the agency wants to be paid $4,000. All I can tell you about here are the results that were reported in various stories in the media. Most of the articles I found were published in the UK, so the results from the UK sample were described more often than the others.

In the UK, 72% of the single participants said that they were single by choice. If that many said that they had chosen to be single, then why did only 53% say that they preferred to be single than coupled? My guess is that some wanted to be single for now but were interested in coupling in the future.

Nearly a third of the single people in the UK (31%) never go on dates. Another 62% said they rarely or only sometimes date. That leaves just 7% who regularly go on dates. Fewer than half of the UK singles (41%) said that being in a romantic relationship would make them feel complete.

The single people were happy about their freedom. For example, in the UK, 84% of the single people said that making their own decisions about money was empowering and gave them confidence.

In the stories I read about “The Single Age” report, I found just one way in which the single people were less satisfied with their lives than the coupled people. In the UK, more single people than coupled people worry about their financial situation, 59% vs. 49%. Comparable findings were not reported for the US sample, but I would expect them to be similar. Single people who live alone don’t get to split expenses with anyone else. Even beyond that, though, single people in the U.S. are disadvantaged by laws and policies that massively favor married people, financially. In everyday life, their pockets get picked by the many products, services, and offers that are cheaper by the couple.

The author of the report, Lucie Greene, offered this word of warning:

“What’s clear is that as single becomes a more normalized, and positive choice, single consumers are pushing back against patronizing marketing and narratives and will increasingly reject brands that do not frame their experience as it is – something rewarding and fulfilling.”

Advice like this represents a dramatic change from the past, and a most welcome one.