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Singles “of a certain age� tend to get mighty possessive about their freedom to do as they please. Over half of singles in their 40s through 60s (54 percent) say personal freedom and independence is what they like most about their solo status. Among other oft-mentioned benefits of living without a partner: no harassing meddlers in home decoration nor lifestyle choices and nobody to account to for one's behavior, according to a 2003 survey of 3,500 singles commissioned by AARP and conducted by Knowledge Networks, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based market research firm. The AARP publication, “Lifestyles, Dating and Romance: A Study of Midlife Singles,� reports on the attitudes and behaviors of singles ages 40 to 69, a group that includes some 34 million people, according to Census Bureau estimates for 2002. These singles account for one-third of consumers in their age bracket.

AARP and others are interested in the over-40 singles market not just for what it is, but where it's headed. Growth drivers for plus-40 singles include increases in life expectancy, the greater educational attainment and self-reliance of women, widespread acceptability of divorce and loosening of attitudes toward sexual relationships and cohabitation. Still, even today, in a world where couples seem to predominate, single people don't feel they necessarily have to go out trolling for a mate.

When it comes to dating, these Boomers tend to be fairly open to someone who is different. When asked who is “date-able,� 62 percent would consider someone of a different religion and 58 percent regard a less educated person as fair game. Men, in general are much more tolerant of differences when seeking a potential date. For example, 72 percent of men say they would date someone who has less money, while only 34 percent of women agree. And 54 percent of men are open to dating someone of a different race or ethnicity compared with just 41 percent of women. These different criteria sometimes translate into less than ideal matches. The mismatches are evident in some of the changes people would like to see in their partners in hopes of achieving a more satisfying relationship. One-quarter of women would like their partners to be more committed and faithful, but only 16 percent of men are in the same boat. Meanwhile, 15 percent of men wish their partners had more time for sex. Only 3 percent of women share the same desire.

Whatever societal pressures there are to become part of a couple, most singles surveyed (64 percent) say they are not interested in dating or starting a relationship, because they like their life the way it is. Ironically, the autonomy that singles tout as the biggest plus also ranks high as the worst part of being single. “Not having someone around with whom to do things� is what 4 in 10 surveyed say they least like about their lifestyle choice. Others dislike “being on their own financially and not having enough money� (24 percent). Women (32 percent) outnumber men (11 percent) by a 3-to-1 margin in their concerns about being on their own financially. This is not a surprise given women's lower average earning power compared with men. Regarding more venal cravings, 16 percent of the total midlifer group see “not being in a sexual relationship� as a drawback to being single. Men are twice as likely as women (24 percent versus 12 percent) to cite this as a shortcoming. Even amid the increasing touches of gray, Mars and Venus never seem to lose their effect on gender behavior.

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