CU Boulder professor Peter McGraw has a single-minded goal — to better understand and even celebrate the millions of individuals who are unmarried.
That’s the focus of the latest research by McGraw, a veteran marketing and psychology professor at the Leeds School of Business, who has spent the last three years examining the so-called solo lifestyle and capturing what he believes is a growing trend that shows no signs of letting up.
“There’s definitely something going on out there,” said McGraw, 52, an avowed bachelor.
“People are questioning the basics of what it means to live a good life and whether having a life partner is really necessary for that.”
The figures don’t lie. His research shows that there are 128 million single adults in the U.S., or roughly half of all adults. An estimated 28 percent of the households in the nation are going solo, a marked charge from the once-dominant idea of the nuclear family. And recent projections reveal that one in four millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — will eschew marriage altogether.
McGraw said the decision to go it alone these days can be closely tied to improving economic opportunities for men and women, paired with greater access to education and a social safety net that makes departing from traditional marriage more than just doable, but the preferred path for many.
“Solos embrace their autonomy; they see themselves as complete,” said McGraw, who has a podcast on the solo life and is completing a book on the topic. “They see a partner as complementing, not completing, their lives.”
McGraw said solos tend to be more adventurous in their approach to life and travel and more open to new things and ideas.
His research shows the solo crowd is a widely diverse group in age and status, but is disproportionately composed of women, LGBTQ and Black community members. Some are single by choice, others by chance.
But no matter the circumstance, he said they all face the same challenges that go along with living in unconventional relationships. That includes encountering discrimination at home and in the workplace.
“What I found is that the stigma is real,” McGraw said. “It’s important that single people be put on equal footing with married people. It’s not healthy for the world to have people walking around feeling badly until this uncertain, difficult thing (marriage) happens in their life.”
McGraw said businesses and policymakers need to take notice of this emerging group and adopt a new playbook. To help, he has launched Single Insight: The Science of Solos, a project for employers and others seeking to separate themselves from their competitors by becoming more attractive to the single population.
For employers, it’s about recruiting and retaining employees with policies and benefits such as flexible work schedules, sabbaticals and pet insurance that are often singles-friendly. For others, it’s the ability to fashion marketing messages, products and services that resonate with consumers who identify as single.
Under the plan, he would deploy a scientific approach to aid these efforts, using case studies and large-scale surveys to help determine the best ways forward.
McGraw said he has optimism for those solos who may be struggling with fitting in at work and beyond.
“There’s nothing wrong with being single,” he said. “If you’re single, where you are in life at this moment is a wonderful opportunity.”
Illustration by Melinda Beck; Photo courtesy Peter McGraw