What It’s Like To Be Single Around The World

It depends on who you ask. But some places are better for single people than others.
February 14, 2020
What It’s Like To Be Single Around The World

Being single is something people either love or hate. One camp insists singledom is freeing and fun, while the other contends it’s lonely and bitter. No matter which camp you fall into — and really, it’s mostly a matter of perspective — you may have a very different experience depending on the city or country you’re in. We wanted to know, what are the best places to be single, and which places aren’t so great? 

The answers to these questions are shaped by several factors, including the sheer number of singles in a particular area, cultural attitudes toward being single, and a host of odd traditions that single people are expected to participate in.

The Best Places To Be Single (And The Worst)

When it comes to enjoying solitude, there’s power in numbers. More single people in a city, country or region suggests friendlier attitudes toward not partnering off, as well as more prospects for dating.

The number of singles in a given place is constantly changing and can be difficult to measure, but a United Nations report provides a glimpse into the state of singledom in each region by looking at the percentage of women aged 45-49 who had never been married. According to the report, 4.3 percent of women in this age range remain unmarried worldwide. But when you break it down by region, the differences are significant.

The region with the highest percentage of unmarried women in their late forties is Australia and New Zealand (14.1%), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (13.4%), and then Europe and North America (10.8%). The regions with the lowest percentage of unmarried women are Central and Southern Asia (1.1%) and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (2.5%). Other parts of Oceania and the various regions of Africa fall somewhere in the middle. Notably, these percentages have been increasing over the years, due in part to shifting cultural attitudes toward marriage.

If we look specifically at the United States, one study ranked cities based on a variety of factors, including online dating opportunities, cost of a meal, average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, and nightlife options per capita. The top five cities for singles were Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego and Portland, Oregon.

Looking beyond the data, there are certain global cities that are subjectively and anecdotally considered “better” for single people. Cities with a lot of nightlife, friendly locals and fun date activities tend to rank highly on these lists. One ranking of the five best cities for dating selected Buenos Aires, Argentina; Austin, Texas; Copenhagen, Denmark; Montreal, Canada; and Cape Town, South Africa. But the cities chosen vary greatly, depending on the experiences and network of the person writing the article.

Weird Traditions Involving Single People

Regardless of other factors, some countries have odd traditions that may make singles think twice about moving there. They range from the silly to the downright cruel, taking place in places from Denmark to China. Here are a few traditions that stand out.

  • On the final night of the Lunar New Year in Malaysia (Chap Goh Mei), it’s customary for young, unmarried women to write their phone number on a mandarin orange and throw it into a nearby river. Perhaps the man of their dreams will find it and hit them up.
  • If you turn 25 in Denmark and are still a single guy, you may be subject to a cinnamon attack. At age 30, pepper is thrown at you instead. This comes from the 16th century, when spice salesmen would travel the country and usually, as a result, didn’t settle down with a partner. These salesmen were called pebersvends (lit. “pepper companions”), and that’s what the victims of the spice attacks (bachelors) are called today.
  • In Shanghai, China, parents of unmarried adults gather at parks on weekends to find partners for their children. They create ads with information about their child and often put them on colorful umbrellas laid out on the sidewalk.
  • Unmarried French women who turn 25 are called “Catherinettes,” and it’s customary for them to wear wacky hats on St. Catherine’s Day (November 25) and to pray for a husband.

These traditions may suggest old-fashioned cultural attitudes toward marriage and singledom that are still deeply embedded in local customs, or they may just be fun rituals that stuck over time. It really depends on the country or region, along with the social norms that prevail there. But every year these norms shift, and countries that have been traditionally marriage-obsessed are beginning to open up to the idea that it’s ok to be single. Sometimes, it’s even something to celebrate.

Learn a language for love, or for yourself.
Author Headshot
Dylan Lyons
Dylan is a senior content producer, overseeing video and podcast projects for the U.S. team. He studied journalism at Ithaca College and previously managed social media for CBS News. He’s currently pursuing his MBA part-time at NYU Stern. His interests include podcasts, puppies, politics, alliteration, reading, writing, and dessert. Dylan lives in New York City.
Dylan is a senior content producer, overseeing video and podcast projects for the U.S. team. He studied journalism at Ithaca College and previously managed social media for CBS News. He’s currently pursuing his MBA part-time at NYU Stern. His interests include podcasts, puppies, politics, alliteration, reading, writing, and dessert. Dylan lives in New York City.

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