The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What has changed for single Americans in the past decade


Never before in U.S. history have so many adults been unmarried. There are now 109 million Americans, 18 and older, who are divorced, widowed or have always been single. That’s 45 percent of the adult population.

Each year for the past decade, the U.S. Census Bureau has issued statistics about unmarried Americans to mark Unmarried and Single Americans Week, celebrated every September. Those statistics and others highlight the following changes in what it means to live as a single American.

1. An increasing number of households are headed by adults who are unmarried.

Between 2006 and 2015, the number of unmarried Americans 18 and older increased from 92 million to 109 million. The number of households headed by unmarried Americans also steadily increased. In 2006, 50.7 million households were maintained by single people; by 2015, that number shot up to 59 million, or 47 percent of all households.

2. Of all Americans who are not married, the biggest group is those who’ve never been married.

For every year of the past decade, the biggest group of unmarried Americans has been those who have never been married. Their numbers increased from 60 percent in 2006 to 63 percent in 2015. In that period, the percentage of all unmarried Americans who are divorced or widowed has decreased.

One reason the ranks of never-married Americans are growing is that the age at which people first marry — among those who do tie the knot — has been increasing. In 2006, the average age of Americans getting married for the first time was 25.5 for women and 27.5 for men; by 2015 it was 27.1 for women and 29.2 for men.

Young adults are delaying marriage for many reasons, including a challenging job market, falling wages and growing debt. Others are forsaking it altogether. A report from the Pew Research Center estimates that by the time today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a remarkable 25 percent will have been single all their lives. Most will likely remain single.

3. Unmarried Americans have become more highly educated.

In 2006, 83 percent of unmarried Americans had at least a high school education; by 2015, 87 percent could say the same. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew from 24 percent in 2006 to 27 percent a decade later.

4. The majority of unmarried Americans are not living with a partner or living alone, but are living with their parents or with various combinations of friends, roommates, parents, children and other relatives.

Over the past decade, the number of adults who are cohabiting with a romantic partner has continued to grow, reaching about 13 percent of unmarried Americans in 2014. Another chunk of unmarried Americans live alone. In 2006, 30.5 million Americans were going solo; by 2015, that number increased to 35 million. But those living alone and those who are cohabiting still account for fewer than half of all unmarried Americans. So how are the others living?

Among 18- to 34-year-olds of all marital statuses, 2014 marked a turning point. A report from the Pew Research Center showed that, for the first time, more young adults were living in their parents’ home than in a place of their own with a spouse or unmarried partner. The large number of young adults who returned to live with their parents, or who never left, was widely attributed to the economy.

Americans are also living with people to whom they are not related. As of 2010, about 6 percent of all multi-person households included no family members at all. All across the age spectrum, Americans are opting to live with friends instead of partners or other family members. Unmarried Americans with children of their own are also living in a variety of ways — for example, in households of their own; with their unmarried partner or in multigenerational households. Some single-mother families are sharing homes with other single-mother families.

5. A growing proportion of women who give birth are unmarried. 

In 2006, 38.5 percent of all women ages 15 to 44 who gave birth were unmarried. Now that number is just over 40 percent. For many years, most of the unmarried women having babies were single and not living with a partner. Starting a decade ago, that reversed, and more unmarried women have been cohabiting when their baby is born.

Grandparents are also among the unmarried Americans raising children. Of all grandparents who live with grandchildren and are responsible for their most basic care, about 30 percent are unmarried, a figure that has remained fairly constant over the past 10 years.


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