A Status Report
Than Ever Before
March 14, 2018
According to a CNN report, in 2017, the Census Bureau reported that a record number of adults in the U.S. were not married. More than 110 million residents were divorced or widowed or had always been single; that’s more than 45 percent of all Americans aged 18 or older. And people who did marry were taking longer than ever to get there.
The median age of first marriage rose to 29.5 for men; for women, it reached 27.4. (These trends are likely to continue: A report from the Pew Research Center a few years ago predicted that by the time today’s young adults reach the age of 50, about one in four of them will have been single all their life.)
Living alone is also becoming more popular. Last summer, the Canadian press was abuzz with the news that for the first time in the nation’s history, more people were living in one-person households than in any other arrangement. In the U.S., the number of people living without a spouse or partner rose to 42 percent last year, up from 39 percent a decade ago.
Individualistic practices like living alone aren’t just Western phenomena — they’ve gone global. In analyses of a half-century of data (1960-2011) from 78 nations around the world, psychology researcher Henri C. Santos and his colleagues found that the popularity of such practices grew significantly for 83 percent of the countries with relevant data. Individualistic beliefs, like valuing friends more than family, have also been on the rise, increasing significantly for 79 percent of the nations across the five decades.
A half-century ago, Americans who had not yet married wouldn’t be considered real adults. That’s no longer the case. According to a 2017 Census Bureau report, more than half of the participants in a nationally representative sample (55 percent) said that getting married was not an important criterion for becoming an adult. The same percentage also said that having a child was not an important milestone of adulthood. More important now is completing formal schooling and having full-time employment; 95 percent said that each of those criteria was at least somewhat important.