Thursday, November 14, 2019

A considerable proportion of people in postindustrial societies experience difficulties in intimate relationships and spend considerable time being single

The Association Between Mating Performance, Marital Status, and the Length of Singlehood: Evidence From Greece and China. Menelaos Apostolou, Yan Wang. Evolutionary Psychology, November 13, 2019.

Abstract: A considerable proportion of people in postindustrial societies experience difficulties in intimate relationships and spend considerable time being single. In the current research, we attempted to examine mating performance, and occurrence and length of singlehood in a Greek (N = 884) and a Chinese (N = 2,041) sample. We found that, in both samples, about half of the participants experienced difficulties in intimate relationships. In addition, more than half of the participants were single, and nearly one in four participants indicated that they were single because they faced difficulties attracting a partner. Moreover, more than one in five singles in the Greek sample were without a partner for more than 3 years, and almost half of the singles in the Chinese sample had never been in a relationship. Mating performance predicted marital status, with low scorers being more likely to be single because they faced difficulties in attracting a partner than high scorers. Mating performance predicted also the length of singlehood, with low scorers spending more time being single than high scorers. In addition, singles who faced difficulties in attracting partners experienced lengthier spells of singlehood than other categories of singles. Furthermore, there were significantly more participants who preferred to be single and who never had a relationship in the Chinese than in the Greek sample. Overall, in both samples, a considerable proportion of participants experienced low mating performance, which was associated with increased incidence of prolonged spells of singlehood.

Keywords: singlehood, involuntary singlehood, mating, mismatch problem

Causes of Poor Mating Performance

There are many reasons why people experience poor performance in the domain of mating, including stochastic ones such as accidents, genetic mutations, and illnesses (Apostolou, 2017b). For instance, individuals may experience a serious accident, which could result in disfigurement that in turn could impair their capacity to attract mates. Similarly, random genetic mutations may significantly affect the functioning of adaptations involved in mating, causing difficulties in this area. In the same vain, individuals may be affected by a serious disease, which could affect their mate value as well as their capacity to allocate resources in mate-seeking. However, serious accidents, random genetic mutations with a substantial phenotypic effect, and grave illnesses are rare and can consequently account only for a small percentage of people who face difficulties in mating.

It has been proposed that the main factor behind the high prevalence of poor mating performance has been the mismatch between ancestral and modern conditions (Apostolou, 2015). More specifically, selection forces shape adaptations to work optimally (i.e., to increase individuals’ surviving and reproductive success or fitness) in the specific environment they occupy. If this environment changes, selection forces would adjust these adaptations to work optimally in the new environment. Nevertheless, this process takes time, and in the interim, there would be many individuals with adaptations that do not work optimally, which is known as the mismatch problem (Crawford, 1998; Li, van Vugt, & Colarelli, 2017; Maner & Kenrick, 2010). The environment in which mating takes place has undergone substantial changes very recently in the evolutionary timescale, which means that the mismatch problem is likely to play a major role in explaining poor performance in mating.

More specifically, anthropological, historical, and phylogenetic evidence indicates that, until recently, the typical form of long-term mating has been arranged marriage (Broude & Greene, 1976; Coontz, 2006; Walker, Hill, Flinn, & Ellsworth, 2011). For instance, a study of 16 historical societies found that arranged marriage was the norm in 15 of them (Apostolou, 2012). Another study examined 190 contemporary hunting and gathering societies, whose way of life reflected the way of life of ancestral foragers and found that arranged marriage was the typical form of mating (Apostolou, 2007). Furthermore, men form male coalitions in order to monopolize the women of other men (Tooby & Cosmides, 1988). Historical, anthropological, and physiological evidence indicates that raids, wars, and conflicts, aiming also to obtain women, had been common in ancestral human societies (Bowles, 2009; Keegan, 2004; Puts, 2016). Such evidence indicates further that in ancestral human societies people could exercise free mate choice. For example, they could choose their own mates in later marriages that were less controlled by parents or in marriage in extramarital relationships (Apostolou, 2017a).

Following the industrial revolution in 18th century, most human societies transited to postindustrialism. In the postindustrial context, mate choice is freely exercised, while mating is not forced by coalitions of powerful men. Nevertheless, adaptations involved in mating have evolved in a context where mates were secured predominantly through parents or imposed by male coalitions. These adaptations may not work optimally in a context where individuals have to obtain mates on their own. For instance, a high level of aggression may have enabled ancestral men to obtain women by fighting other men, but it constitutes an obstacle in keeping a partner for men living in postindustrial societies. Consistent with this argument, one study identified 76 reasons that could lead people to be single, including poor flirting skills and interpersonal difficulties such as shyness and fear of commitment (Apostolou, 2017b). Another study analyzed 13,429 responses from a Reddit thread, asking the question why men were single (Apostolou, 2019). The responses were classified in 43 broader categories, with the most frequent ones being poor flirting skills, low self-confidence, poor looks, shyness, low effort, and bad experiences from previous relationships.

On this basis, it is predicted that a considerable proportion of the population today would experience poor performance in mating. In accordance with this prediction, a study which employed 1,894 Greek-speaking participants found that almost one in two experienced difficulties in attracting and/or keeping an intimate partner (Apostolou et al., 2018). A subsequent study which employed 1,358 Greek-speaking participants produced similar results (Apostolou et al., 2019). It could be further predicted that, due to difficulties in the domain of mating, there would be many people who are involuntarily single. Consistent with this prediction, one study estimated that, in the Greek cultural context, about half of the participants who were single were so because they faced difficulties in attracting a partner (Apostolou et al., 2019).

Check also Mating Performance: Assessing Flirting Skills, Mate Signal-Detection Ability, and Shyness Effects. Menelaos Apostolou et al. Evolutionary Psychology, September 22, 2019.

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