A new study released by the University of Auckland shows that, contrary to popular belief, single people don’t necessarily have lower life satisfaction or poorer health.
The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, showed that relationships could be a source of great anxiety, especially for those who try to avoid conflict in their lives.
Lead researcher Yuthika Girme believes that the stereotype of the ‘miserable single’ simply isn’t accurate
“It’s a well-documented finding that single people tend to be less happy compared to those in a relationship, but that may not be true for everyone,” she said. “Single people also can have satisfying lives.”
Some 4000 New Zealanders, aged 18 to 94, participated in the study, answering questions about relationships, as well as their views on maintaining them. The survey found that people who fear relationship conflict were just as content when single as they were in relationships.
Many participants felt that being single opens doors, especially in the fields of career and travel, and many believe that leading a solo life actually improves relationships outside those of a romantic nature.
“Some single people can actually maintain better relationships with family and friends,” said Ms Girme.
The New Zealand survey showed that divorcees, widows and single parents enjoy a “happy and fulfilling life” devoid of the tension associated with being in a relationship.
The results of a 2014 YourLifeChoices retirement insight survey showed that more than 25 per cent of seniors aged 65 are single. This figure closely reflects national statistics that, regardless of demographic, one in four Australians live alone.
Society often pressures people to have a partner because it is considered more socially acceptable, but it’s important for singles, and their friends and families, to realise that they don’t need a partner to be okay.
“We can have a roof over our head, have laughs with our friends, food on the table, enjoy life and truly be happy without a significant other,” says Sexual Health Australia’s Desiree Spierings.
So society says it’s more ‘normal’ for people to be involved in a relationship. What do they know? The most important thing is that you are happy.
Living alone can carry with it a social stigma, even suspicion, that those who are single can’t build or maintain a relationship, when the reality is many people choose to live alone and are happy, and the stereotype of the single person is actually out-dated.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ (AIFS) Professor David de Vaus, living alone may not be a choice for all, but it should be seen as a mostly positive situation.
“If there’s one message that I think comes out of the research, it is that there isn’t a cause for moral panic,” says Professor de Vaus. “People who live alone continue to engage with their friends, continue to mix and engage with their family.”
An AIFS survey showed that the number of people who live alone has risen since 1946, when eight per cent of Australians lived as singles, to 24 per cent in 2011. Statistics also show that more women live alone than men – in 2011, 39 per cent of women aged 70 and over and 40 per cent of those aged 80 and over live alone, compared to just 19 per cent of men. Fifty-four per cent of those are widows. Not surprisingly, the numbers show that the older one becomes, the more likely they are to live alone.
Living alone is a double-edged sword. Whilst surveys may say that being single shouldn’t be a negative, it does still come with its share of challenges. Research conducted by Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), contrary to the New Zealand study, showed that people who live alone are more likely to be poorer, and that they may be more susceptible to depression. There are also concerns about increasing occurrences of undernutrition and difficulties arising for those who experience health issues such as hearing loss, loss of sight and mobility, and recurrent symptoms of illness and disease.
Whatever the surveys say, the important thing is to do whatever makes you happy. If you enjoy your own company, or feel that the loved one who you have lost can never be replaced, or are satisfied with your level of activity and social engagement, then there’s nothing wrong with living alone. The opportunity to live out your days doing as you please should be seen as a blessing and not a burden.
However, it is still important to stay connected, because with solid social connections, a healthy lifestyle and a great support network, living alone can be a very positive experience.
Do you live alone? Is it your choice to do so? How do you find the experience? Do you have any suggestions for those who live alone that may help them lead a happier life?