Consumer Insights: VH1’s ‘State of the [Romantic] Union’

by Rachel Cooper, Consumer Insights, VH1

As single Adultster women (in their late 20s and early 30s) continue to transition through adulthood, they’re moving away from casual dating toward searching for an ideal partner to spend the rest of their lives with. But in a tech-driven world where gender roles are in flux, the search for a mate has radically changed. To better understand what it feels like to be “dater,” VH1 did a deep dive into the female Adultster dating experience, revealing the increased freedoms—and increased pressures—associated with dating today.

Key Findings

For female Adultsters, now is the time to get serious.

While dating in the early 20s was more about self-exploration and fun, female Adultsters want to stop dating casually and start looking for a lifelong partner, with 84% reporting that they are more interested in dating one person seriously than multiple people casually.

Despite reports that this is a “marriage averse” generation, Adultster women have marriage on the brain.

While “marriage delay” is real for Adultsters – over the past 5 decades, the average age of marriage has gone up 5 years, from 21 to 26 years old – and this group is accepting of  “unconventional” partnering paths as evidenced by the rise in cohabitation rates, the majority of Adultsters consider marriage the end goal.

Adultsters delay marriage to make sure they’re confident in who they are before bringing someone else into the picture.

A full 84% agree, “Even though it’s ok not to get married, I still want to get married someday.”

Thoughts around the institution of marriage are being redefined.

This generation sees marriage as more of an accomplishment rather than a necessity or convention, which is arguably distinct from previous generations.

Many “increased freedoms” that come with dating today make women feel like it’s a promising time to be a dater.

Free to still be dating at this age. There’s permission for women to date around; to talk about dating; to embrace being single; and there’s no set timeline to follow.

Free to be me. Women are embracing dating in their late 20s/early 30s because, having gone through a phase of self-exploration, they don’t feel like they have to compromise any parts of themselves. They have the freedom to be themselves, quirks and all.

Free to actively pursue dates. From online dating sites to sports clubs, bar trivia and religious institutions, there are endless ways to meet new people.

Free to settle down, but not settle. There is no longer a sense that one is unsuccessful in life if marriage and kids don’t happen by 25.

  • Adultsters prioritize maintaining their authentic identity far above coupling just for the sake of coupling.
  • 62% disagree with the statement, “I’d rather settle for someone ‘good enough’ than be single the rest of my life.”
  • Men are nearly twice as likely to say that they’d rather settle for someone “good enough” than be single for the rest of their lives (31% of men, versus 17% of women).

But newfound freedoms bring increased emotional stakes.

Pressure to get it right. As women have raised the standards for themselves in terms of their education, career and family, they’ve also raised the standards for what they look for in a partner.

  • Intelligence, shared morals/values, open-mindedness, physical attractiveness and a shared level of ambition are all high priorities women have for their partners. Yet 71% feel there doesn’t seem to be a lot of quality single men out there, namely because they seem to be using their freedom to date non-committedly.
  • Social graphs compound the pressure. The constant flow of Facebook relationship statuses, engagement posts, Twitter feeds, viral YouTube wedding videos and baby pics remind them that other people are “getting it right.”

Gender roles in flux. Women find themselves torn between being the modern, independent people they’re used to being in almost every area of their life and wanting men to take control of the dating experience.

  • A full 85% of women prefer that a guy ask them out rather than having to ask a guy out.

Dating in a digital world. With multiple ways of communicating – and multiple meanings attached to each mode of communication – dating in a digital, tech-driven world can create confusion.

  • 59% of women put a lot of thought into how they choose to communicate (i.e. text versus email).
  • 82% look for background information on people with whom they go on dates (i.e. Google searches).

Implications:

Since female Adultster daters are letting their single flags fly, marketers shouldn’t feel a need to shy away from the topic. Instead, they should embrace it much like daters themselves are doing. Specifically, marketers can reach this demo through humor, as female Adultsters appreciate seeing a comedic, lighthearted take on their situations.

When tailoring a message to female Adultsters, acknowledging some of the tensions that exist around dating for this demo may also be helpful. These include:

  • Freedom not to settle
  • Pressure to get it right
  • Drive to be a modern-day woman but desire to be “treated like a lady” by guys
  • Complexities technology brings to the dating table
  • Need to have romantic partners live up to high standards women set for themselves

The Methodology:

This study was based on a 3-phase approach, including two focus groups held in Atlanta, GA with single, heterosexual women (25-34-years-old); an online quantitative survey of 170 male and female Adultsters (25-34-years-old) in July 2011; and a literature review of popular press and trade articles related to dating.

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