Singles aren’t looking

Valentine’s Day is about as personally relevant to me as is Passover or Guy Fawkes Day, and since I’m likely to move to a distant, undetermined location in the next month or two, dating is a very low priority for me. However, that will not stop this blog from making gratuitous holiday tie-in posts. Today we have (via Fark) a Pew Research finding that most American singles aren’t looking for a partner. Specifically:

Among all singles, just 16% say they are currently looking for a romantic partner. That amounts to 7% of the adult population. Some 55% of singles report no active interest in seeking a romantic partner. This is especially true for women, for those who have been widowed or divorced, and for older singles. Yet even among the youngest adults, the zest for romance is somewhat muted: 38% of singles ages 18-29 say they are not currently looking for a romantic partner, compared to 22% in that age cohort who are looking for partners. The rest say they are in committed relationships.

Here’s my Tyler Cowen-esque ordered list of possible explanations:

  1. Simple preference. Some people decide that, despite the dominant cultural paradigm, this kind of relationship just isn’t something they want.

  2. Dating sucks. The process of finding a partner is so unpleasant that some people give up, or wait for a more favorable environment.
  3. Small dating pool. This is the one the Pew survey actually investigates at some level, asking the people who are looking if there are good prospects in the community. Outside of urban areas they are not very optimistic about this.
  4. Practical issues. Some people have very full schedules and don’t have the time or the resources for dating. A variety of other personal circumstances don’t allow for entering a relationship (or make it quite difficult). Alternatively, they just prioritize other interests.
  5. Signaling. Actively looking for a partner is often interpreted as a sign of desperation, and can be counterproductive, so people say they aren’t to project more self-assurance. Maybe this effect extends to survey responses.
  6. Dating works. People looking for partners tend to find them sooner or later, removing them from the category of interest. The more efficient this process is, the more selection bias you get in this kind of survey: people for whom being in a relationship is important are underrepresented in the singles group, because they don’t stay in this category for long periods of time.

I think 6 is the largest effect, followed by 3 and 4. When I’m personally in the not-looking group it’s usually for a combination of 1 and 2, although currently it’s 4 (the impending relocation).

4 thoughts on “Singles aren’t looking

  1. Mason

    I would expect that (4) would be rather large among scientists around our age. I know that the demands on my time can get ridiculously large and that I care a lot (“We care a lot!”) about my work and spend a lot of time on it that isn’t associated with work time (like the new draft of an expository article I just sent off to a collaborator a few minutes ago).
    Guy Fawkes Day is quite fun—it’s basically just an excuse for fireworks. It doesn’t really have any meaning beyond that these days. I guess I’m “supposed” to care about Passover. :) As for today, I am using it this year as a way to happily reminisce about my radio show on this day in 1998. Otherwise, I treat it as a normal day—though as a matter of principle I wouldn’t particularly like it if I were in a relationship: it just adds to the pressure and there’s already way too much of that. This isn’t really helping anybody.

  2. Justin

    Guy Fawkes Day means a lot more to me now that I’ve seen V for Vendetta. Awesome movie! Yay, Netflix! :-)
    Mason, remember you’re a ten-sigma outlier. Large majorities of the astronomers I’ve known here and at UCSC fall in the “in a relationship” category, i.e. (6). Now, if you’re saying that (4) would be very common among newly hired faculty at prestigious universities – that I’d probably agree with. You people are crazy workaholics with completely skewed priorities! 😀

  3. Mason

    Well, even with my ten-sigma properties, I still observe a lot of other people with very heavy workloads.
    And I agree completely about V for Vendetta. That movie is extremely awesome.

  4. Josh

    #4 is hugely prevalent in my life as well as the lives of those in my particular field. You find a lot of dedicated artists spend their off hours from obligations (be it work or chores) trying to pursue their goals. I don’t know how this compares to other walks of life, but I would guess it plays a stronger role in my little world than your average demographics, as the pursuit of one’s individual dream is encouraged over the idea of settling down to a 9-to-5 job, finding a mate, and raising a family. Our particular trade doesn’t lean towards the kind of mental or logistical stability that makes us want to include others, either. :-)
    I once talked to a man who I met in North Hollywood when he remarked about being single, “that’s the problem with deciding to be an actor… I had to give up my social life!” I should count myself lucky I made so many friends at Theatre Tribe!

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