US/World

Single Adults Now Outnumber Married Couples: Is There A Cultural Lag Behind The Numbers Game?

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Single Americans over the age of 16 ever so slightly outnumbered married Americans in August. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

In a client report titled “Selfies,” Economist Edward Yardeni noted single Americans over the age of 16 ever so slightly outnumbered married Americans in August, Bloomberg News reported. This rise of a new single majority, 50.2 percent of the nearly 248 million total, has “implications for our economy, society, and politics,” Yardeni’s report stated. Could it be a trendy title belies a certain cultural lag? Most people don’t find the evolving demographics of America to be any great news.

The percentage of adult Americans who have never married has risen from 22.1 percent in 1976 to 30.4 percent last month, while the proportion of divorced, separated, or widowed adults increased from 15.3 percent in 1976 to 19.8 percent last month. Yardeni derived these numbers, according to Bloomberg, from Bureau of Labor Statistics data. However, it is unclear whether he includes cohabiting adults in the “single” or the “married” category. When you consider a 2007 Gallup poll found a majority of Americans approve of unmarried couples who live together, plus the number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88 percent between 1990 and 2007, this would suggest the current number of singles living in a shared space might be considerable.

As an economist, Yardeni should not be surprised by the millennial preference for focusing on something other than marriage — like a job, for instance. The current job market compared to that of recent years is considerably diminished and its effects show on the generation dealing with lowered financial expectations. A Pew Research analysis from 2012 found just 63 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 31 had jobs, down from 70 percent of same-aged counterparts in 2007. In 1976, the overall unemployment rate for the year was 7.7 percent. In 2012, Pew discovered 56 percent of the youngest millennial adults, those between the ages of 18 and 24, and 16 percent of those between 25 and 31 were living with their parents. This is a record total of 21.6 million young adults living in their parents’ home during 2012, with men more likely than women to be doing so — 40 percent versus 32 percent.

Many young adults, then, are remaining single in a time when jobs are relatively scarce, often uncertain, and frequently low-paid while a considerable number of young adults are living with their parents. Millennials rival baby boomers in terms of sheer numbers — 25 percent of the population versus 25.4 percent, respectively. Considering that generation is still very young, they seem to have plenty of time to add their great numbers to the married-with-children pile and shape the future as they so choose.

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