Who is more satisfied with their single lives, men or women?
A scholar at a Polish university (Dominika Ochnik of the University of Opole) and one from a German university (Gal Slonim of Potsdam University) collaborated to study single people in both countries. The 316 German singles (103 women and 213 men) and the 196 Polish singles (123 women and 73 men) who participated met these criteria:
- They were older than 30
- They had always been single (never married)
- If they were currently in a romantic relationship, it had lasted no more than 6 months (27% had never been in a romantic relationship that lasted more than 6 months and 26% had only been in one such relationship)
- They had no children
- They were heterosexual
The German singles were part of an annual study based on a nationwide random sample. The Polish single people were recruited in a less systematic and potentially more biased way – from a dating portal and from lectures and meetings for single people. (The article didn’t specify the nature of the lectures or meetings.)
Participants indicated their satisfaction with singlehood on a 5-point scale, with a rating of 5 indicating “extremely high” satisfaction.
On the average, the German singles were more satisfied with their single lives than the Polish singles, 3.7 vs. 2.6. The authors note that marriage is less highly valued in Germany than in Poland, and that the recent growth in the number of single people has been fairly slow in Poland. Perhaps those factors, and other cultural considerations, account for the differences. However, I don’t feel confident about the overall differences, because the two groups were recruited in such different ways. The Germans were from a representative sample, whereas many of the Polish singles were recruited from a dating site. Singles signed up for a dating site are especially likely to include single people who do not want to be single and to exclude single people such as the Single at Heart, for whom single life is their best life.
More compelling to me were the differences within each country. In both Germany and Poland, the single women were more satisfied with their single lives than the single men were. The differences were similar in the two nations: 3.8 for the women vs. 3.5 for the men in Germany; 2.8 for the women and 2.4 for the men in Poland.
Women like living alone more than men do
Living alone is not the same as being single since many single people do not live alone and some people who are coupled live apart from their partners. People who live alone, though, are disproportionately single.
A Canadian study of 6,675 people who were living alone when they were first contacted, and then followed up on their living situation for each of the next six years, found that the women were more likely than the men to continue living alone over the course of the study. Women seem to like living alone more than men do. They enjoy spending time alone more than men do. Older women in the U.S. are more satisfied with their friendships. They spend more time pursuing their interests and hobbies. If they are heterosexuals who were previously married or living with a man, they are especially happy not to be doing more than their fair share of the household chores or the work of caring for others.
There is one way that men in the U.S. who live alone have an advantage over women in later life: they are more secure, financially. However, this is not specific to people who live alone. In just about every living arrangement, older men are less likely to be impoverished than older women.
The growing evidence for women’s greater happiness with single life is particularly interesting in light of the prevailing stereotypes. According to the conventional wisdom, marriage and romantic relationships are supposed to be more important to women, more central to their identities. Maybe we are going to need to rethink that.