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The Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Singles

Those who are more open are more likely to be OK as singles.

Key points

  • The Big 5 personality traits may predict relationship status, particularly singlehood.
  • Introverted people are more likely to be involuntarily single and thus more likely to experience loneliness.
  • Individuals who are single by choice tend to score high on the personality trait openness to experience.
Source: Pexels/Pixabay

Think about the single people you know well. Now group them into voluntary and involuntary singles:

The involuntary singles would be individuals who often feel lonely and wish they were in a long-term romantic relationship but have been unable to find a suitable partner. The voluntary singles (single by choice), in contrast, would be those who enjoy the freedom of singlehood and have no interest in long-term relationships or marriage.

In your opinion, are there any major differences in the personalities of members of the two groups?

A study by Apostolou and Tsangari, published in the February 2022 issue of Personality and Individual Differences, suggests members of these two groups are indeed different. Specifically, it concludes that high levels of the personality trait "openness to experience" and low levels of the trait "extraversion" are associated with, “different types of singlehood: High scorers in openness are likely to prefer to be single, while low scorers in extraversion are likely to be single, without wanting to be so.”

Let us delve deeper into the study.

Investigating Big 5 and Involuntary Singlehood

Sample: The study was conducted in the Republic of Cyprus. The sample included 1,418 Greek-speaking participants (627 men), with an average age of 32 years.

Participants’ relationship status:

  • In a relationship (35 percent)
  • Involuntarily single (20 percent), meaning they had trouble finding a romantic partner
  • Married (18 percent)
  • Temporarily single (16 percent), meaning they were between relationships
  • Single by choice (8 percent)
  • Single for other reasons (4 percent)

Material: The Big 5 Inventory, consisting of 44 items.

Note, the Big 5 refers to five dimensions of personality—extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. These traits are described below:

  • Agreeableness: Being good-natured, friendly, kind, and trusting.
  • Conscientiousness: Includes traits such as responsibility, thoroughness, and planfulness.
  • Extraversion (also written as extroversion): Being assertive, talkative, outgoing, and energetic. It is the opposite of introversion.
  • Neuroticism: Neurotic individuals are typically described as emotional, anxious, moody, and tense.
  • Openness to experience: Refers to a tendency to prefer variety, have many interests, and be imaginative.

Results: Analysis of data found agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism were not predictors of singlehood. Singlehood did correlate, however, with both extraversion and openness to experience.

Specifically, extraversion decreased the likelihood of being single:

As indicated by the Odds Ratio, a one unit increase in extraversion increased the probability to be in the "in an intimate relationship" category than in the "involuntarily single" category by 40.3 percent...[and the] probability to be in the "between relationships" category rather than in the "involuntarily single" category by 38.5 percent.

In contrast, the personality trait openness to experience increased the probability of being single by choice:

One unit increase in the openness increased the probability to be in the "single by choice" than in the "in an intimate relationship" category by 58.7 percent.

The length of singlehood also correlated with the two personality traits:

One unit increase in [extraversion] was associated with a decrease in the length of the spell of singlehood by 2.19 years...[And a unit] increase in [openness] was associated with a 1.38 years increase in the spell of singlehood.

Source: melancholiaphotography/Pixabay


The personality traits of extraversion and openness are predictors of relationship status:

  • Introverted people, compared with extroverted, are more likely to be involuntarily single or experience a longer duration of singlehood.
  • Individuals who score high on openness to experience, compared with those less open to experience, are more likely to be single by choice.

Based on these findings, one potential reason some people who desire a romantic relationship are still single is introversion. This makes sense because introverted individuals tend to spend more time alone and engage in solitary activities (e.g., play computer games, read books, daydream), which means they have fewer social interactions and thus fewer opportunities to meet potential mates.

The data also showed that those who score high on openness to experience were more likely to be voluntarily single than in a romantic relationship.

Why do these individuals prefer to be single? Given the link between openness and preference for variety, perhaps they want to have varied experiences with different romantic partners—something that being in a committed relationship would prevent. In addition, they may be more liberal than the average person and thus less inclined to comply with society's norms concerning marriage and long-term relationships.

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