The Sex Map of Britain is a very interesting recent documentary series which ‘meets people for whom sex, sexuality and having children is far from straightforward.
The series covers the following topics:
The reality of being a ‘cheap prostitute’ – selling sex for as little as £4.
Why some people choose a career in porn.
Asexuality – why some people just don’t want sex.
Transgender escorts and parenting urges.
The journey of freezing eggs and ‘alternatives’ to IVF.
And a trip behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic.
Unfortunately the episode on polyamory has disappeared.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a terrific series to get students to explore the wonderful diversity of relationships and sexuality in postmodern society, and taken together, this collection clearly illustrates the postmodern view of modern family life – that there’s no longer such a thing as a ‘normal’ family or relationship!
There are nine available episodes available on iplayer for the next 10 months, and, suitably for a documentary series which explores the diversity of family life in postmodern society, they are all nice and short, so perfect for postmodern students with postmodern attention spans (i.e. short ones).
there are 16 million people aged 16 or over who are ‘single and have never cohabited or married’, equivalent to 34.5% of the adult population.
there are 19.8 million people ‘not living as a couple’, equivalent to 39% of the adult population.
The problem with these statistics is that they do not actually tell us how many ‘single’ people there are in England and Wales (let alone the United Kingdom) – at least not if we take the commonly accepted definition of a single person as ‘someone who is unmarried or not involved in a stable sexual relationship’.
Below I explore why I think there are way less single people in the country than these official statistics suggest…
Single people never cohabited or married
There are 16 million people who are ‘single and never cohabited or married’, equivalent to 34.5% of the population aged over 16 in England and Wales, at least according to Office for National Statistics, 2015 data.
However, while it is interesting to know how many people are ‘single, and have never married or cohabited’, this isn’t the same as the number of people who are actually single, for the following reasons:
Firstly, and probably most obviously, this system of categorization does not tell us the proportion of divorced or widowed people who not married but are in relationships, and thus not single. (Some of these will be cohabiting as if married of course, so in ‘highly committed relationships!)
Secondly, it doesn’t tell us how many people who are ‘single and never cohabited or married’ are in committed relationships, and hence not actually single.
Thirdly, it doesn’t tell us how many ‘married’ people are in empty shell marriages, and thus single in a sense.
NB – the above data came from the Labour Force Survey, which gleans its information about relationship status from a series of interview questions – questions which will in no way tell us how many actual single people there are in the U.K. – this particular question is only really only useful for telling us the number of married people or in a formal civil partnership and cannot tell us very much about the relationship status of the non-married/ civil partnership people.
In fairness to LFS, it does go on to ask whether people are ‘cohabiting’, the results for which are shown below…
People ‘not living as a couple’
A second possible way of measuring the number of single people in the country, again taken from ONS Labour Force Survey data, is to look at ‘living arrangements’ – and here we find that approximately 39% of the population are not living as a couple, while 61% are living as a couple.
I’d say this is a more valid way of measuring the number of single people in the country because it includes a clear indication that 61% of the population are either married or cohabiting, rather than just the number of people who are ‘married’ like in the first data set. However, it still does not tell us how many single people there are in the country, because some proportion of people not living as a couple will still be in committed relationships, but the data does not tell us this!
We are thus forced to look elsewhere to find out how many actual single people there are in the country….
Other sources of data about ‘single people’
I guess I’ve got to at least mention Facebook….. According to ‘statistics brain‘, 37% of people report their relationship status as single on Facebook.
However, this data has validity problems because:
I don’t have access to the methodology used, no details are provided.
This probably isn’t from the UK.
According to this New Statesman article, 40% of 20 somethings are reluctant to report themselves as ‘in a relationship’ on Facebook unless its an engagement.
This 2017 Statista survey reports that around 27% of the UK population aged 40 to 70 reported that they were single, not currently in a relationship.
While I’m inclined to intuit that this is a valid figure, unfortunately I’m not in a position to objectively validate the findings because I ain’t prepared to pay the subscription fee to gain the access required to get the information on sampling techniques (if they even exist in any meaningful sense because this was an online survey!)
Having said that, the above data is broadly backed up by this 2014 YouGov Poll which reports that 30% of the UK population are single (although the analysis doesn’t go into any detail about this aspect of the poll, limiting itself to how people who are in relationships feel about each other).
Personally I think this 30% figure sounds about right, given that the numbers of single people in their 20s and 30s will probably be higher than those in the their 40s-70s, you’d expect the later percentage to be slightly higher than the Statista results, so it triangulates nicely.
So…. how many people are single in the UK? About 30%.
Postscript – Fantasy reporting on the geographic distribution of single people
Heads up on click-bait lists like this from The Independent which show you the ‘cities with the most single people in’ – here are the results:
The percentages above are for people who are ‘single and never married’, the problem is that most of these are university towns…. where lots of young people live, most of whom will move on to another city once they’ve graduated, and to my mind to get a realistic picture of how ‘committed to single life’ a city’s population is, you’d need to control for age, and how long they intend to stay in that city. It’s sort or ironic, somehow, that geographical instability (most students only intend to reside in their university town temporarily) skews the figures on how many people are not in a stable relationship (i.e. single).
Then of course, as I mentioned above, many of these people will actually be in committed relationships.
Chas and Dave may not realise it, but I think many of their songs demonstrate how their (working class male) experience of the shift in gender-relations and the emergence of the pure relationship hasn’t been a comfortable one…
‘London Girls’ seems to be a a clear indication of what they want in a woman….a simple, traditional ‘girl’ who does your washing, mends your clothes and doesn’t complain when you leave your tat lying around the house…
Sorry to say lads, but that kind of traditional ‘gal is a rare find these days, especially among working class couples, where it’s more likely that both partners will have to work to survive, so they’re pretty much setting themselves up for frustration wishing for the past.
In another song, ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’, Anthony Giddens might point out that this is an inevitable consequence of the ‘Pure Relationship’ now being the typical type of relationship in late-modern society.
From this analytical point of view, the lads might lament a little less – it’s not that one of them in-particular was never good enough, it’s that in the age of individualised relationships, where we both expect more but don’t have the time to make sufficient compromises, most (yes – MOST) relationships are doomed to failure.
The Song ‘Rabbit’ seems to further indicate a negative experience of their partners’ constant chatter – despite having ‘wonderful arms, and…. charms’ (I kid you not, it’s an actual line in the song), they can’t stand her constant talking.
Ulrich Beck might point out that this is something which is much more likely to be expected in the age of the negotiated family, where the expectations of relationships constantly shift, and so require more discussion to keep them on track.
You could also interpret Chas and Dave’s music as something of a reaction against cosmopolitanism – they’ve been around the world, yet all they want is Jellied Eels and a Pint, thank you very much. I guess if they wan’t cheering up, they could always go down to Margate… I’ve heard it’s pretty reactionary down that way….
P.S. When it comes to the Heathrow Christmas advert – I’m with Charlie Brooker – This is just too weird, they should never have gone there!
Blame Relative Deprivation and YouTube for this Post!
So there I was on Zoopla having a new years gawp at how I could buy a three bedroom end of terrace house in Margate for £50K less than my two bed flat in Surrey – and that ‘Down to Margate’ song popped into my head. A few clicks and a few songs later the idea for this post just sort of emerged… Sorry!
Tinder and other dating apps certainly seem to be changing the way we meet people in the postmodern age, but does the normalisation of these technologies represent a significant change in the nature of intimate relationships more generally?
Some basic stats on Tinder certainly suggest its use is very widespread, and growing….
Tinder boasts 9.6 million daily active users
20% of Tinder users say they’re looking for a hookup, 27% said they’re looking for a significant other, and 53% said they are looking to find friends.
Only 13% of Tinder users reported relationships lasting beyond the one month mark.
In 2016 Tinder expects to double the number of subscribers it has.
On average Tinder Users spend 35 minutes a day on the app and swipe (left or right) 140 times.
The Washington Post reported one man’s success rate on Tinder. He swiped right 203,000 times and got 150 first dates. That is a success rate of 0.6%.
Tinder is valued at $1.2 billion according to Deutsche Bank.
Qualitative research suggests that there are a diverse number of ways in which people use these dating apps – somewhat obviously the major reason people use them is to to meet people, with the possibility of a hook up, but within this there is a huge variety of experiences – from people who use them several hours a day without a single catch, to those who use them successfully to enrich their sex-lives, or materially, by only dating rich guys who buy them things.
Two interesting documentaries to check out which explore dating apps (albeit in a non-representative way) are the BBC’s ‘addicted to dating apps‘ (only available until November 2016) and Vice’s ‘Mobile Love Industry’
The relationship between Postmodernity, dating apps and changing relationships
The types of relationship facilitated by dating apps certainly illustrate many aspects of life in a postmodern society – such as individuals having more choice, and relationships being shorter lived, and thus more unstable and more insecure; while the fact that women are just as likely to use them as men demonstrates increasing gender equality and breaking down of traditional gender roles.
The question of whether the normalisation of these apps affects relationships and family life more generally remains to be seen – as it stands, it seems that it’s mainly younger people who use these apps before they ‘settle down’, and thus most people see them as something to use in your 20s, before looking for a serious long term partner later on in life.
However, it could be that now these apps offer the possibility of a life of continuous hook-ups, that fewer people see the need to settle down with a life-long partner, but that remains to be seen.
A further question we could ask is whether or not Marxist or Feminist analysis of these dating apps might be applied to better understand their impacts? To what extent are these apps really about promoting consumption, for example, or to what extent might they perpetuate or challenge traditional gender norms?
The Postmodern View of Family/ Personal Relationships
The fact that we see a dazzling array of personal, intimate relationships and family forms is an expression of post-modern society.
Postmodern relationships are much more complex because of hyperreality (think Tinder) and because of leisure – this is generally to be celebrated because relationships (and sexuality) are now much more about fun rather than duty.
A postmodern view would celebrate the new freedoms surrounding postmodern relationships – based on choice and leisure – as this is a move away from the oppressive norms of the traditional nuclear family.
The Late Modern View of Family/ Personal Relationships
Developing stable relationships becomes more difficult in late modern society because relationships becomes a matter of choice.
The root cause of this is that the ‘new norm’ is for people to ‘use’ their relationships as a means of constructing their own identities. ‘My needs’ come first, the relationship comes second.
Two generic forms of ‘typical relationship emerge’ – The Pure Relationship (based on ‘confluent love’) and the Negotiated Family.
These are typically characterised by greater equality but more instability (hence high divorce) – new structures emerge to help people through relationship breakdowns.