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Finding a partner and settling down has long been convention in many countries. New data, however, suggests that the trend may be changing.
In 2010, the US census found that nearly half of all US adults— 100 million — are single and 31 million live alone, the highest rates in the country’s history. The assumption has always been that these singles are socially awkward and lead miserable lives.
But for many it’s not because they can’t find a suitable partner — it’s because they choose a life of independence.
After conducting more than 300 interviews and looking at sociological data, Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University, concluded that single people are more socially outgoing and active than their committed counterparts.
In his book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, he argues that “Singletons play an essential yet unappreciated role in revitalizing cities and animating public spaces. Compared with married people, they’re more likely to eat out in restaurants, exercise in a gym, take art classes, attend public events, and volunteer.”
According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 55 percent of singles had no interest in seeking a romantic partner. Reasons include the emergence of communications technology, urbanization, and gender equality.
Young people no longer rely on physical relationships to fulfill their emotional needs and prefer engaging in the wealth of activities on offer in a city. Meanwhile, women face less pressure to marry and are empowered to live independently.
British actress Kelly Brook, 33, who recently split from her boyfriend, told UK newspaper the Sunday Mirror “I should probably have stayed single until now and focused on myself a lot more. I now plan to be selfish. It’s important for your self-development to focus on yourself instead of someone else.”
These developments are not unique to the US or UK. In China, where traditional values are still strong, more and more women are defying social expectations and staying single.
Sochoe Wang, 40, from Beijing, has been single for more than a decade. “I like my freedom and independence — I can go wherever I want. I don’t want to have to give up my hobbies or career just to grow old with someone,” she told The Star, a Malaysian newspaper. “For me, pursuing my own spiritual and career development might be more important and meaningful than managing a family and taking on its responsibilities.”
And Wang is far from alone: according to China’s 2010 census, there are half a million unmarried women over the age of 27 in Beijing.