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Men, women flip the script in gender expectation

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

Updated <1m ago

336 |  9

Desire to marry varies by age

Younger singles are more interested in getting married than older ones. Responses, by age group, when asked if they want to marry:

SOURCES: Match.com/MarketTools survey of 5,199 men and women who either have never been married or are widowed, divorced or separated.

Graphic by Frank Pompa, USA TODAY

A new portrait of single Americans, drawn from a major new survey, suggests the attitudes and behaviors of today's singles are quite unlike their counterparts just a few decades ago.

  • 24-year-old Mary Catenacci (left) from South Pasadena, CA and her friend, Kathy Sato on a girls night out. The two admit to going out twice a week and consider themselves very sociable. A singles survey show that women are more inclined to want independence than men.

    By Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY

    24-year-old Mary Catenacci (left) from South Pasadena, CA and her friend, Kathy Sato on a girls night out. The two admit to going out twice a week and consider themselves very sociable. A singles survey show that women are more inclined to want independence than men.

By Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY

24-year-old Mary Catenacci (left) from South Pasadena, CA and her friend, Kathy Sato on a girls night out. The two admit to going out twice a week and consider themselves very sociable. A singles survey show that women are more inclined to want independence than men.

Findings show men are more interested in love, marriage and children than their peers in earlier times; women want more independence in their relationships than their mothers did; and hooking up and one-night stands aren't necessarily meaningless sexual encounters.

The researchers say the nationally representative survey of more than 5,000 men and women is the largest and most comprehensive study of single adults to date. And it reveals a sea change in gender expectations.

"Men are now expressing some traditionally female attitudes, while women are adopting some of those long attributed to men," says biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who helped develop the survey with social historian Stephanie Coontz and Justin Garcia, a doctoral fellow with the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at Binghamton (N.Y.) University.

"For me, as a historian, it's just amazing confirmation about what has changed in the last 40 years," says Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

The online survey of singles ages 21 and older was conducted by market research firm MarketTools for the Dallas-based dating website Match.com. Fisher, a research professor at Rutgers University, is a scientific adviser for a division of Match.com.

Data show men are quicker to fall in love and more likely than women to want children: 54% of men say they have experienced love at first sight, compared with 44% of women; among singles without children under 18, more men (24%) than women (15%) say they want children.

And, across every age group, women want more independence than men in their relationships: 77% of women say having their personal space is "very important," vs. 58% for men; 78% of women say the same about having their own interests and hobbies (vs. 64% for men). And 35% of women (vs. 23% of men) say regular nights out with the guys/girls are important.

Roles overlap

Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University who did not participate in the survey, says the attitudes echo her findings on 18- to 32-year-olds born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which reflect "a blurring of gender boundaries."

"Men do feel more empowered to acknowledge their desires for commitment and their desires for connection," says Gerson, author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, out in March.

"Men and women are looking for similar assets and are not judging a potential partner on the basis of gender-related traits — that a woman is looking for a paycheck object or a man is looking for a sex object," she says. "They're both looking for the whole package, more so than in the past."

Sara Barrett, 34, of Washington, says she and her women friends — both single and married — do talk about maintaining their individuality to make sure they don't get "totally lost in their relationships."

"The independence is really, really important to us," she says, noting that the "girls' night out" for a handful of friends is usually once a week.

Barrett, a reading and math teacher, says she mentions the need for "space" from the get-go in a new relationship.

"With some friends, it's been an issue. They dated a guy who was clingier than they wanted."

June Ashley, 57, a single in Fort Worth, agrees that men appear more focused on committed relationships.

"I think men are more needy for a relationship than women," says Ashley, who married at 17 and was divorced after nine years. She remarried and was widowed after seven years.

Sherri Langburt of New York, founder of SingleEdition.com, a lifestyle website for singles, says she has noticed the changes in what men and women ask the site's panel of experts.

"Men are writing us more about the emotional relationships than women. Women are writing us about the one-night stands," Langburt says. "Women are (asking) if it's OK — 'Can I have a one-night stand?' Men are writing, 'I'm single and I'm lonely and want to find love and can't admit it to anyone.' "

Love at first sight

Mary Catenacci, 24, of South Pasadena, Calif., who works in fundraising for a non-profit group, says men she has dated have confided to her that they've experienced love at first sight.

Women, she says, aren't as eager to admit strong feelings as they might have been years ago. "Girls are little bit more cautious because they are more educated and have more opportunities. They're a bit more discerning."

Men are more visual than women, which could explain the "love at first sight" disparity, say both Fisher and Langburt.

The 5,199 singles surveyed include the never married (56%), divorced (31%), widowed (10%) and separated (3%) who were not in a serious relationship at the time. Of the total, 5% were gay or lesbian; 4% were bisexual; and 0.1% identified as transgender.

Among other findings:

Singles can fall in love with a friend. Seventy-one percent fell in love with someone they did not initially find attractive after having great conversations or shared interests or both; 35% fell in love with someone even though they felt no sparks initially.

Love can last. Twenty-nine percent report remaining intensely in love with their last partner two to five years; 8% for six to 10 years; and 18% for more than 10 years.

Hookups and one-night stands can turn into partnerships. Thirty-five percent have had a one-night stand that turned into a long-term relationship.

Garcia, an evolutionary biologist, says young people "want romantic love" and are finding it "through sexual encounters."

"They are finding relationships through hookups," he says, noting that more than half of the young men and women in his research say they hooked up to start a romantic relationship.

The survey did not define a "hookup" for participants, but Garcia's research calls it "a sexual encounter between people who are not dating or in a relationship, and where a more traditional romantic relationship is not an explicit condition of the encounter."

With singles making up about one-third of the U.S. population — about 105 million singles ages 18 and older, according to the most recent Census data — there is great interest in this group.

Pat Palmieri, an adjunct assistant professor of American history at Queensborough Community College, part of the City University of New York, is writing a book, Single in America: A History, 1870 to the Present.

She traces how being single went from being considered a normal state in those early days to being considered odd from the 1920s until after the 1960s. Still, the idea of being a "spinster" or "old maid" carried a stigma until recently. Now, she says, U.S culture is valuing "singleness."

Palmieri's research also has found this focus on individuality, which she calls a "dramatic shift from the idea of being blended with your husband and taking his identity and bank account."

"It may be because marriage is more fragile that people may want to maintain their separateness, even within marriage," she says.

But some behaviors of these singles don't reflect changing beliefs, especially among women, the study shows. Although 87% of women surveyed said they would pick up the tab on a date under some circumstances, 89% have not asked someone out, and almost half (48%) typically wait for the other person to call after a first date.

Erik Larsen, 27, of Washington, says a woman picking up the check "is perfectly acceptable" — when you're dating, he says, "it's a give-and-take sort of thing."

But he adds that being asked out by a woman was unexpected.

"The first time, I was surprised," he says. "Then it's happened a few other times since. In a way, it's kind of refreshing. They got a little bit ahead of where I was, but it's OK."

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Posted 02/02/2011 7:49 PM | Updated <1m ago

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218 comments

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crppplll

3:40 AM on February 3, 2011

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"I want to be my own person." My second wife announced as she walked out the door with my two kids in 1984. I guess a part of the "new wave".

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jtdakota

4:24 AM on February 3, 2011

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As a 28 year old single man, I think the independence issue with women is purely media driven. It's not reality. There's such an importance on independence from the woman's point of view in movies, songs, magazines, etc. that they just reiterate what they're pounded with when interviewed. The fact that the actions are contrary to the independence beliefs are because the actions are actually what reflects reality more. I don't know one guy who wants to get married immediately. Love at first sight is a different issue. Men have always been biologically physically driven, hence the makeup, etc., so it really falls in line with traditional standards.

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techresmgt

4:41 AM on February 3, 2011

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Nothing but female centric, feminista driven propaganda. Smart men don't want American women in any manner of speaking.

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Oyster P

4:55 AM on February 3, 2011

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Findings show men are more interested in love, marriage and children than their peers in earlier times
+++++++

Sure they are. That's why there is a 3 to 1 ratio, men to women, in the bars every night. Who comes up with this stuff?

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Alfred W. Bush

5:24 AM on February 3, 2011

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This helps back up something I've been saying for years now...women today cheat more than men.

 
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6:26 AM on February 3, 2011

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Orlandojon

6:34 AM on February 3, 2011

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You can blame hollywood and the far left for idolizing the fringe lifestyle while downplaying the importance of traditional marriage and family.

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candodone

6:52 AM on February 3, 2011

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I would answer the "why meen want women?"....but, the last time that I answer I was barred from posting. You will have to fill in the blanks.

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jeffreyamo

6:54 AM on February 3, 2011

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This is not surprising since this is exactly what we have been socializing men and women to do for the last 20-30 years.

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Aztec

6:56 AM on February 3, 2011

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"that a woman is looking for a paycheck object or a man is looking for a sex object," she says. "They're both looking for the whole package, more so than in the past.""

- Um, if you believe this, you are dreaming...

 

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