Study reveals the dating behaviors of single parents in the United States

New research in the journal Personal Relationships investigates the dating behaviors of single parents in the United States.

The study of 747 single parents with dependent-age children found that a majority of them (62.2%) were not actively dating but many were still open to establishing a romantic relationship. Younger parents were both more likely to be seeking a relationship and more likely to have lied about having children to get a date.

Most of the single parents said they would involve their children in their dating life at some point, but only 14.7% said they would involve their children from the very start of a relationship. Most single parents said they would involve their children once they knew they wanted a committed relationship or once they were actually in one.

The study found men were more likely than women to allow their children to set them up on a date. Men were also more likely to make time to date when their children were visiting their ex-partner. Both single men and women said they took their children’s opinion of their dating partner seriously — but this was especially true of women.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Peter B. Gray of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Gray: There is a large body of research on human dating and mating. However, much of that research focuses on childless individuals, particularly university students. We know relatively little about the ways that single parents seek to juggle their romantic lives and parenting.

There are many single parents with dependent-age children, and most of these single parents form new relationships including new marriages. So research on this topic is relevant to a sizable segment of the U.S. population.

I have thought a lot about the intersection between parenting and sexuality—not just how sex can lead to parenting, but how parenting impacts one’s sex life. However, I had mostly thought about these issues among partnered parents. Extending these discussions among single parents raises fundamental questions about how to balance competing agendas of caring for one’s kids and seeking satisfying romantic lives.

What should the average person take away from your study?

It can be challenge to juggle parenting and romance as a single parent. Most participants in our study were not actively seeking a new relationship, but were open to such possibilities, including with other single parents. There were some age- and gender-related patterns to single parents’ dating behaviors; for example, younger participants were more likely to be actively seeking a new relationship, and women were more likely than men to take seriously their children’s opinion of their dating partner.

Most single parents think carefully about how they will involve their children in their dating lives. While there is a large body of research that addresses how parents (e.g., arranged marriages or father absence/presence) shape their kids’ later reproductive behavior, this study demonstrates that children can also influence their parents’ romantic behavior.

This is a large, demographically representative sample of U.S. singles with dependent-age children. This means that the findings likely apply widely at least within the U.S.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

The study relied on survey questions with close-ended responses. The findings provide a portrait in how single U.S. parents approach dating. Other methods and samples could further extend these findings. For example, in-depth interviews would help unpack some of the deeper meanings and individualized circumstances; experimental methods could directly address causal processes; and more varied samples (e.g., outside the U.S.) could evaluate ways in which the dating and mating lives of single parents vary by context.

The study, “Romantic and dating behaviors among single parents in the United States“, was also co-authored by Carol Y. Franco, Justin R. Garcia, Amanda N. Gesselman, and Helen E. Fisher.