Opinion

This is why you’re single, according to research

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
Published

Male researchers think they know why British women are single. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Great news for single women across Britain – researchers have figured out why we can’t find love. And guess what? It’s all our fault!

That’s right; put down your phone and stop swiping on Bumble for two seconds, because this is important stuff. Two (male) researchers from the States have analysed data from both here and across the pond and shakily connected some dots, to try and determine why so many ‘career women’ are still gathering dust on the proverbial shelf. Their conclusion? That we females are dooming ourselves for a lifetime of solitude because we’re refusing to ‘marry down’. In other words, we’re refusing to date people with fewer qualifications or lower salaries than ourselves.

Daniel Lichter, a professor of sociology at Cornell University, and Joseph Price, an associate professor of economics at Bigham Young University, have analysed data from 10.5million American households. Why? To determine the characteristics of married couples aged between 25 and 45 for an upcoming paper, appropriately titled ‘Mismatches in the Marriage Market’. In the process, though, they have also uncovered the answer to one of life’s big unsolvable questions: why are so many women still single? The (incredibly questionable) conclusion states that many of us can’t find a partner because, when it comes to salaries and qualifications, our standards are just too high to meet demand.

“Unmarried women, on average, are looking for a man who has an income that is about 66% higher and a likelihood of having a college degree that is about 49% higher than what is available,” the pair note in the study.

Right. 

Apparently, we’re dooming ourselves for a lifetime of solitude by refusing to ‘marry down’

Despite being based on American research, Price claims that the findings are “relevant” to women in the UK, too, because there are similar trends over here. And by that, of course, he means that British women are every bit as driven and determined as our sisters across the pond: figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies show 55% of women enter higher education by the age of 30 compared to just 43% of men, while the proportion of couples with children where only one adult works has almost halved in the past 40 years from 47%.

We can see what they’re trying to say – kind of. After all, it’s true that more women are going to universities and earning higher salaries than ever before. This has undoubtedly started to level out the dating playing field, with British women between the ages of 22 and 29 now officially out-earning men of the same age. This effectively eradicates the idea that marriage, for women, is a process of ‘hypergamy’, or ‘marrying up’ – and to be clear, that is no bad thing. 

But taking these figures and projecting them onto every single woman in Britain is a frankly ridiculous notion. For a start, it assumes that all the single ladies in the Western world are heterosexuals looking for a male partner. They are not. Secondly, plucking these figures out of thin air with absolutely no context whatsoever seems like yet another lazy way of single-shaming all the excellent, intelligent, independent women struggling to find love. And, worse still, single-shaming them for being excellent, intelligent and independent, too. 

Why not take a look at our increasingly throwaway dating culture, which champions hook-ups and short-term flings over anything worthwhile, for some clues about why women are remaining single instead? The never-ending stream of perfectly filtered selfies on apps like Bumble, Tinder and Hinge mean both sexes are constantly being offered an incentive to keep swiping rather than settle down. Tinder has produced more than 20 billion matches to date; and with such a veritable buffet of quick flings on offer, why would anyone, male or female, settle for anything less than their ideal?

And when it comes to an ‘ideal’, it’s insulting to assume that women are looking for nothing more than a reel of impressive qualifications and a hefty salary in a mate, as the authors of the study appear to suggest. We’re more equal to men than ever before, and we certainly don’t need to rely on their salaries to get by. It’s going to take a lot more than a fat pay cheque and a framed diploma to turn us on and keep us keen.

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