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How Many Married or Partnered People Wish They Were Single?

We Americans – and others, too – often read a lot into marital status. Tell us that those people over there are married and we will assume that they like it that way – they are married because they want to be. Tell us that those other people are single and we make an entirely different assumption – that they are “stuck” being single and what they really want is to become unsingle.

When I write or give talks about single people, I am sometimes asked how many single people wish they were married. When I’m asked that question, I turn it around and suggest that the parallel question also needs to be raised: How many married people wish they were single? Because of our assumptions that married people want to be married, social scientists rarely ask that question directly.

Until now. In a previous post, I told you about Professor Jeffrey Arnett‘s survey of 25-39 year-olds, and his finding that having time to themselves ranked above nine other potential sources of joy in their lives. He and his coauthor also asked married people if they wished they were single and single people if they wish they were married.

Remember that the authors included in the partnered group those who were married (51% of all the people in their survey), as well as those who were cohabiting (12%) and those who had a close boyfriend or girlfriend (10%). They classified the other 27% as single. (That’s different from the legal definition of single – 49% would qualify under that definition.)

In some ways, these young adults who were partnered seemed very upbeat about their romantic relationship. For example, 87% said they thought they had found their “soul mate.” That leaves 13% who were in a serious romantic relationship yet did not think they had found their soul mate.

When asked about the statement, “I sometimes wish I were single again,” 28% of the partnered people said that was true. That means that even among people who think they have found their “soul mate,” some still sometimes wish they were single again.

Among those who were single (not cohabiting and not in a close romantic relationship), 58% said that at this time in their lives, they prefer living single to being in a romantic relationship. So only 42% of single people between the ages of 25 and 39 wish they were currently not single. The 58% is very similar to the results of a Pew survey which found that 55% of a national sample of adults were not currently in a committed romantic relationship and were not looking for a partner.

In Arnett’s sample of young adults, 79% said that eventually, they did want to marry. Pew research based on a wider range of adults (not just young adults) suggests that the percent is probably smaller for a more inclusive sample. People who were married in the past, for example, are even more likely than those who have always been single to say that they are single by choice.

A few other points of interest from the survey:

Arnett asked the young adults who they relied on most for emotional support. Single people pointed to their friends (50%) and their mother (41%). Of the people with partners, 78% said they relied most on their partner. I think it is kind of interesting that 87% of those same people said that they had found their soul mate. So not all of those soul mates are the primary source of emotional support.

Just over 90 percent of the people with romantic partners said that their partners were a source of enjoyment in their lives. One-third said their partner is a source of stress. Nearly as many (29%) said that they needed to “give up some of my career progress for the sake of my relationship.”

How Many Married or Partnered People Wish They Were Single?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyZysfafOAs. Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.


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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2014). How Many Married or Partnered People Wish They Were Single?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 21, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2014/12/how-many-married-or-partnered-people-wish-they-were-single/

 

Last updated: 22 Dec 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Dec 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.