For the single best friend who’s complaining about coming to your wedding without a date, here’s some encouraging news you can share with her: The odds are definitely in her favor that she’ll meet other single people there. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, more than half of adults in the U.S. younger than 35 are living without a spouse or partner.
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of American men and women over the age of 18 who live alone has increased from 39 percent to 42 percent. For those younger than 35, that percentage went from 56 percent to 61 percent. Other important stats to give your single friend some hope include: 6 in 10 unpartnered adults have never been married; 20 percent are divorced, and 14 percent are widowed.
Richard Fry, the report’s author, noted that two trends have informed this change: “The share of adults who are married has fallen, while the share living with a romantic partner has grown,” he wrote. (In fact, about 18 million adults, roughly half under the age of 35, said in another Pew study that they were living with a romantic partner in 2016—an increase of 29 percent from 10 years earlier.) “However, the increase in cohabitation has not been large enough to offset the decline in marriage, giving way to the rise in the number of ‘unpartnered’ Americans.”
For many young people, Kim Parker, Pew’s director of social trends research, told CNN that the decision to hold off on moving in with someone, whether married or not, seems to be a result of good financial sense. “In the past, it seems like young adults sprung right into marriage, whether or not they felt financially ready, and then built a life and built financial stability as a couple. Now, you find that young adults are waiting until they've checked some of the other boxes.”
Another analyst pointed to “the growing fragility of the male wage earner” for why rates of marriage and live-in romantic partnerships are declining. Cheryl Russell, a demographer and editorial director at the New Strategist Press, told the Hill that some men are struggling to earn enough money to sustain a family. “The demographic segments most likely to be living without a partner are the ones in which men are struggling the most—young adults, the less educated, Hispanics, and blacks.”
But another recent study found that men in general are more likely to “marry up” nowadays because the rate of highly educated (and thus highly salaried) men has fallen, while more women are taking advantage of those educational (and thus financial) opportunities.
Regardless of why more people are remaining unpartnered, there’s definitely something to be said for enjoying the precious alone time we get before we make a lifelong commitment to someone. (That is, beyond getting the added luxury of not having to share a bathroom.) Combating archaic ideals that marriage is a woman’s key to happiness, research prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) confirms that unmarried people are just as happy and healthy as married couples. In fact, they’re actually more socially and politically engaged—an important point, considering the administration we’re currently living under—and they provide more help to their friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers.
As Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s director of research and public education, pointed out in an op-ed: “Maybe it’s time for us married couples to stop being so free with advice to our single friends and recognize that we have things to learn from them—such as nurturing our social networks rather than simply cocooning with our ‘soul mate.’”