Stereotypes Upended by Study: How Singles View Marriage
by David Gibson
“Trust is important for human romance, and an expectation of fidelity is still the norm in America,” according to Justin Garcia, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
Commenting on a newly released study of single adults sponsored by match.com, an organization that emerged in the 1990s as a pioneer online dating service, Garcia said that Americans today “value notions of monogamy” and are “looking for commitment.”
The match.com study was released in early February, just in time for Valentine’s Day. It found that 76 percent of single Americans believe that if they marry they can stay married forever. What’s more, the study found that “69 percent of singles regard fidelity as a ‘must have.’”
Garcia seemed unsurprised by these findings. “Being exclusive or faithful is still incredibly important to a vast majority of Americans,” he wrote. In fact, he said, Americans “are driven to find someone to mutually love.”
But anyone who believes faithfulness and commitment have gone totally out of style among single men and women may well be surprised by the match.com study. “Put aside what you used to think, and get ready to have a very different view about the single people in your life,” the organization said in announcing the study results.
The finding that for many apparently proved most surprising addressed what match.com described as the “myth” that “guys don’t want to get married and have to be pushed into having kids.” Not so, it insisted.
A Time magazine report on the study called attention to its findings about single men in America. The study puts “the lie to the impression that all guys are … commitmentphobes who regard the dating scene as a kind of all-you-can-meet buffet for their enjoyment,” Time said.
Match.com reported that “men are just as inclined to want to get married as women.” It said singles want to get married, but “are not desperate” to do so.
Actually, “in the 21-34 age group, 62 percent of single women and men want to marry,” match.com said. Is it safe to conclude, then, that marriage isn’t going out of style to quite the degree some previously suspected?
Time magazine called attention to what it termed match.com’s “vested interest in understanding the partnerless.” Still, Time considered it noteworthy that the study was conducted by an independent company and that match.com also worked in conjunction with some highly recognized scholars.
One of those scholars is Helen Fisher, a widely known anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She said the study supports what she long thought was the case, “that men are just as eager to find a partner, fall in love, commit long term and raise a family.” She noted the high percentage of men under 35 who “believe you can stay married to the same person forever (84 percent).”
If match.com served up a few surprises with its study, many nonetheless will find some findings unsettling – for example, that “36 percent of singles are open to a casual hook-up in the near future,” that “54 percent of singles have had a one-night stand” or that “72 percent or singles would live with someone in the future without marrying.”
And some people may be left scratching their heads after hearing what match.com learned about the meaning attached to what many simply call the “three little words”: “I love you.” The organization said that “31 percent of singles believe that ‘I love you means ‘I want you in my life,’ and 30 percent believe it means ‘I care about you.’ Only 14 percent think it means ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with you,’ and 19 percent that ‘I want to have a committed relationship with you.”
Match.com described its study, based on the attitudes and behaviors of a representative sample of 5,200 U.S. single people” from the ages of 21 to more than 65 as “the most comprehensive survey of American singles ever undertaken.”
I know that some researchers will debate what this study says about singles and the desire to marry. However, what may be the study’s most general conclusion seems to be one that many can agree upon – that we do well to exercise caution when it comes to stereotyping our younger and older single people.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.