best places to be singleEvery so often, someone asks me whether there are particularly good places to be single in the U.S. Maybe you have seen those feature stories that pop up as predictably as weeds – you know, the ones listing the Top 10 Cities for Singles. Don’t look for answers there. Those articles are about the best places to become un-single.

When the question is addressed to me, the people asking it want to know the best places to live your single life fully and with minimal singlism and matrimania. Sometimes they already have a hunch – for example, that the coasts are more amenable to single life than the heartland, or that cities are better places for singles than rural areas or suburbs.

There is no definitive research-based answer to the question of the best places to be single if you want to live your single life and not just escape it. There is, however, research that may be relevant in a suggestive way, and I’ll describe one example of it in this post.

Even though the number and percentage of single people has been increasing for decades, such that it is almost as ordinary to be a single adult as to be a married one, there is still a persistent prejudice against singles. Too often, the stereotyping still sticks and the myths continue to be accepted uncritically.

Perhaps the best places for single people would be those populated by open-minded types. There is a personality type that seems to capture the construct I have in mind. It is called openness, and for those of you steeped in academic personality lingo, it is one of the Big Five personality factors.

In an article introducing the Five-Factor Model of personality in the Journal of Personality back in 1992, Robert McCrae and Oliver John described people who score high on openness as artistic, curious, imaginative, insightful and original. They also tend to be introspective, to value intellectual matters, to judge in unconventional ways, and to have a wide range of interests.

Studying the Big Five has become immensely popular so we know a lot about people who are especially high in openness (and the other four factors: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism). One of the things we know is how these traits are distributed across the United States.

In the American Psychologist paper, “Statewide differences in personality: Toward a psychological geography of the United States,” Peter Rentfrow summarized studies conducted over a period of more than three decades. Results were most consistent for the openness factor.

If you can access the article (beyond the abstract), take a look at the bottom of Figure 1. There you will see a map of the United States showing the levels of openness in each state. The ten states scoring highest in openness are the following (listed alphabetically because no distinctions were made among the ten):

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Maryland
  5. Nevada
  6. New York
  7. Oregon
  8. Virginia
  9. Vermont
  10. Washington

If people who are open-minded (in the ways I described above) provide welcoming environments for people who want to live their single lives, then those who guessed that the coasts are most hospitable may well be correct. All of the West-Coast states and several of the Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states are on this Top 10 List.

My guess is that the openness of the particular people in your social worlds (for example, your workplace, neighborhood, friendship circle, and family) is more important than the personality of your entire state.  We really need more definitive research.

Map of California image available from Shutterstock