The Demographics of Living Single

By Wendi Williams

According to the 2000 Census, 40% or nearly 82 million men and women in the United States are unmarried, signaling the greatest number of single or one-person households in history. This figure includes nearly 20 million divorcees, 13.6 million widows, and over 48 million adults that have never been married. The rise in the single population is the result of several factors such as a greater number of couples or partners that cohabitate, delayed marriages, divorce, death of a spouse, or the hesitancy of men and women to remarry. This growing population has marketers, particularly in manufacturing and retail, scrambling back to the drawing board in an effort to meet their needs.

The fastest growing segments in the single population are one-person, elderly and single-father households. One-person households increased from 17% in 1970 to 26% by the year 2000. Women living alone made up 67% of one-person households in 1970; however, that number dropped to 58% by 2000. One-person households among men increased from 5.6% to 10.7% in the same period. One reason for this trend is that single men and women are marrying later. The median age for marriage doubled among women age 20-24 (36% to 73%) and tripled among women age 30-34 (6% to 22%). The numbers also increased among men 20-24 (55% to 84%) and among men 30-34 (9% to 30%) over the 30-year period.

As individuals delay marriage, many choose to cohabitate. Cohabitation climbed 28% between 1990 and 1994. By the year 2000, 30% of individuals between the ages of 18 to 24 either lived with their parents, a partner, or other adults. Also, 12% of men and 5% of women between the age of 25 and 34 still lived with their parents. It is estimated that 3.8 million American households contained unmarried partners; however, that number could be higher since individuals may be reluctant to admit their cohabitation status or such persons are classified as roommates or friends.

Children are the chief concern among households where cohabitation exists according to the 1999 National Survey of American Families conducted by the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 births occur among cohabiting couples and 40% of all children will eventually live in a cohabiting household. The study indicated that such children faired no better socially or economically than children living in single-parent households. These children were more likely to live in poverty, to be insecure about food, to become poor readers, and to exhibit bad behavioral problems than those living with married couples or single mothers. The survey concluded that additional research should be conducted to assess the prolonged effects of cohabitation on children.

With the continuing emergence of new technology and a shift to become more health conscious, the life expectancy rate among individuals 55 years and older is steadily rising. The fastest growing segment of this population occurred among the 85 years and over population, increasing 38% increase from 3.1 million to 4.2 million adults. Unfortunately, women tend to outlive men, thus making up a significant number of single-person households. Among persons 55 years and over, 32% of the women compared to 9% of the men were widowed in 2000 alone. There is also great concern that older men and women are more inclined to be poor, socially isolated, at risk for adverse health problems, and of course, victims of mortality.

The most surprising trend among the single population is the growing number of single-father households. From 1970 to 2000, the number of single-father families grew from 393,000 to 2 million across the nation. This trend indicates that fathers are becoming aware of their role in the family structure and are asserting their rights as parents. Other contributing factors are a change in family court decisions; the decision by women to focus on their careers, while men put their careers on hold or make a career change; and a modified societal view that men are nurturing, positive influences in their children's lives.

Although there is still some stigma attached to being single, particularly beyond the 30th birthday, there are some advantages to living alone. Single adults enjoy a greater sense of freedom; single females are in better health than their married counterparts in unhappy marriages; singles have
greater control of their finances; and with no partner to please, singles may have a greater sense of self-knowledge or the freedom to explore their own values, dreams, goals, and spirituality for starters.


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MON, 7 October 2002

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