Friday, January 9, 2004
Survey shows a portrait of the single life
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a new survey from the University of Chicago found that typical urban-dwellers spend much of their adult lives unmarried -- dating and single. That has led to an elaborate network of "markets" in which these adults search for companionship and sex.
"On average, half your life is going to be in this single and dating state, and this is a big change from the 1950s," says Edward Laumann, the project's lead author and an expert in the sociology of sexuality.
The results, released on Thursday, are part of the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey to be published this spring in the book "The Sexual Organization of the City."
Among other things, they found that, between the ages of 18 and 59, those surveyed cohabited an average of nearly four years and were married about 18. The rest of the time -- an average of about 19 years -- they were dating or alone, with no steady companion.
Divorce was, of course, one of the big reasons so many people were single. But so was the fact that many young people are putting off marriage -- sometimes because of school, but also because many are approaching the institution of marriage more warily.
Women surveyed were, for instance, less likely to meet a partner through work, church or other "embedded institutions" as they got older -- making it more difficult to find someone. Laumann says that may be due, in part, to the fact that men in their 40s often sought women who were at least five to eight years younger.
Many gay men in the survey focused largely on transactional relationships, while lesbians were far more interested in relational connections.
Researchers also addressed the issues of multiple partners and jealousy. Overall, 23 percent of men and 31 percent of women said they experienced jealous conflict at some point during their relationships.
And researchers found that cohabitation resulted in more jealousy -- and physical violence -- than it did among married couples.
Men were more likely than women to have more than one sexual partner. Among those surveyed, 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women said they'd had sex with at least one other person during their most recent relationship.
"What's going on now is making the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s pale in comparison," says Eli Coleman, director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota. He called Laumann's work the most comprehensive since that of acclaimed researcher Alfred Kinsey, who surveyed people about sex in the 1940s.