New research published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science suggests that people view the single life as an opportunity to focus on self-development. Having more time for themselves, being able to focus on their goals, and having no one else dictate their actions were among the most highly rated benefits of being single.
Studies suggest that more and more people are living the single life. While part of this trend may be driven by difficulties obtaining a relationship partner, it seems that a good portion of people are choosing to be single. This rise in singlehood seems to contradict evolutionary theory. According to an evolutionary perspective, people are motivated toward long-term relationships since these arrangements offer the best chances of one’s genes being passed on to future generations.
“Singlehood appears to be on the rise especially in Western societies,” said study author Menelaos Apostolou, a professor at the University of Nicosia. “One reason may be that people see benefits in being single, which motivated me to ask the question ‘what people perceive as beneficial in being single?'”
Apostolou and his co-author Chistoforos Christoforou launched a pair of studies to examine what people consider the advantages of being single. In a first online questionnaire, the researchers asked 269 Greek-speaking men and women to write down some of the advantages enjoyed by single people. Two independent researchers then analyzed these responses and identified 84 distinct benefits.
To narrow down this list, Apostolou and Christoforou conducted a follow-up study where they presented the list of 84 advantages to a larger sample of 612 Greek-speaking people. The participants were asked to rate how important each advantage would be to them if they were single.
The researchers then used a statistical technique called principal component analysis to classify the 84 items into a smaller number of broader categories based on participants’ ratings. This resulted in a set of 10 factors, and the three most highly rated factors were “more time for myself”, “focus on my goals”, and “no one dictates my actions.” The other seven factors were: “no getting hurt”, “better control of what I eat”, “freedom to flirt around”, “save resources”, “peace of mind”, “no tension and fights”, and “not do things I dislike.”
The analysis further revealed significant gender differences. Men rated the factor “freedom to flirt around” as a more important advantage than women did. Conversely, women gave higher ratings to “no tension and fights” and “focus on my goals.” There were also age effects — the strongest effects were that older respondents rated “more time for myself” and “not do things I dislike” as more important than younger respondents.
In line with their predictions, the authors said that respondents’ emphasis on having more time for themselves, more resources, and being able to focus on their goals suggests that people find singlehood appealing partly because it allows them to develop their own strengths. The emphasis on having peace of mind and avoiding tension, fights, and getting hurt suggests that being single helps people avoid experiencing negative emotions. Finally, the “freedom to flirt around” factor suggests that singlehood is also appreciated because it allows people to engage in casual relationships.
The researchers also proposed that while there are evolutionary costs to being single, there are times when it may be advantageous. For example, being single for a period of time can allow people to focus on obtaining a job promotion or pursuing their studies. “Instead of only asking whether mated or single life is better, we can ask when it is better for an individual to be single and for how long,” Apostolou and Christoforou wrote. “Considerable more research is necessary however, in order to address such questions.”
Although not predicted by the researchers’ hypotheses, the factors of “better control of what I eat”, “no one dictates my actions”, and “not do things I dislike” may reflect the various compromises that intimate relationships entail.
“There are potentially several benefits in being single, such as the freedom to do whatever you want,” Apostolou told PsyPost.
But “I would predict that the costs of singlehood are probably higher than its benefits, which possibly explains why many singles prefer not to be single, and why most people eventually enter into a relationship,” he added. “These costs remain to be researched.”
One limitation to note is that the study was conducted among Greek-speaking participants from the Republic of Cyprus, and the findings may not generalize beyond this cultural context. Cross-cultural studies may help illuminate how singlehood is perceived in different cultures.
“There is not much research on singlehood, so additional studies are needed in order to understand the phenomenon,” Apostolou said. “The current study was conducted in the Greek cultural context, so some of its findings may not readily generalize to other cultural contexts.”
The study, “What Makes Single Life Attractive: an Explorative Examination of the Advantages of Singlehood”, was authored by Menelaos Apostolou and Chistoforos Christoforou.