Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stats on Singles from the U.S. Census Bureau: 2009 American Community Survey

It's that time of decade! The U.S. Census Bureau has released its 2009 results (which actually cover 2006-2008) from the American Community Survey. Since the media has not yet had a chance to digest the findings as they apply to singles, Singletude will just be reporting the preliminaries today, but they're significant in and of themselves.

Check this out! Since 2008, marrieds now account for just 50.2% of the population! Yep, they are just barely squeezing by us singles by the skin of their pre-wedding bleached teeth. (Taking bets now that they won't be able to hang on to the top spot next time.) And it keeps getting better, especially for the single ladies. Although single men are still a slight minority, accounting for 47.8% of the population, single women really do rule, comprising 51.8% of the population! How exciting is that?

To be fair, the stats tell a different story if you eliminate the youngest age category, "15 to 19 years." Less than 2% of this group is married, probably because, gee, I dunno, singles under 18 aren't even adults. I wish they would change this category to "18 to 24 years" to reflect the decisions of able-bodied adults, not kids who can't even legally vote. But they can legally marry, even if most aren't socially or financially free to do so outside of TV dramas on the CW.

However, although marriage increases markedly with age so that marrieds are in the majority by the time they hit 35, among adults ages 20-34, single living is by far the norm with 67.1% of the men and 60.1% of the women unmarried. This reflects the rising median age of first marriage, now 28 years for men and 26.2 years for women.

Once Americans start turning 35, the lives of men and women diverge markedly. Men ages 35-44 start to marry in earnest (63.4%), a figure which continues to climb to 72.2% of those aged 55-64 before tapering off slightly to 71.4% as the men enter their golden years. For women, marriage reaches a peak by the time they're 35-44 (63.8%) and decreases gradually thereafter, dropping sharply to 40.2% once they turn 65.

African-Americans are the ethnic group most likely to be single (69.6%), while Asian-Americans are least likely (40.4%).

Despite that married workers still earn more on the dollar than singles do and get more benefits at work, they're also just a slim majority. Currently, 43.4% of male employees and 49.9% of female employees are single.

Wanna know what your neighbors are up to behind closed doors? More than one in four (27.8%) are living alone. Even more amazingly, married-couple households now account for just 49.2% of all households! That means since the last American Community Survey, the percentage of single-headed households has risen from 50.3% to 50.8%! Meanwhile, Washington, DC may be claiming the prize for the highest percentage of singles, but Gainesville, FL actually wins the crown. It has more unmarried households relative to its size, equaling 69.5%.

There were some disturbing findings, too. Those living in "nonfamily households" (because only married couples and their kids are families, you know) were far more likely than marrieds to live in poverty. A whole 14.2% of nonfamily households had a total income of $10,000 or less as opposed to just 1.4% of married-couple households. Single, childless females were more likely than any other demographic--even single mothers--to be living under the poverty line. Frighteningly, 40.7% of the unmarried and childless earned less than $25,000, which, realistically, is the minimum most people need to survive. Of the married couples, only 8.6% were in these low-income brackets. On the other end of the scale, 14.4% of married couples raked in over $150,000 in 2008. How many singles do you suppose made that much? Answer: 3.2%. Talk about a two-income trap!

So maybe that's not a surprise, but how about this? Everyone assumes married couples are the backbone of the nation, the dependable worker bees who ensure the Dow Jones goes up, up, and away. Well, that's partly true--for the men. About 76.7% of married men participate in the labor force as opposed to about 56.7% of men who are never married, separated, or divorced. But just 61.6% of married women do the same versus 68.4% of always-single, separated, or divorced women. Looks like the single gals are far more productive than their homebody married sisters! So why is it again that so many single women live under the poverty line? Oh, that's right! Their employers don't think their hard work is worth a living wage. It would've been nice to compare what single and married workers were paid by occupation to ferret out bias, but I didn't see any tables with that kind of data.

Really, as much as the government loves to tout marriage, it doesn't pay much attention to it in these surveys. You would think they'd want to make it very clear that married people are better insured, own more valuable homes, and have more saved for retirement. If married people attain higher levels of education and more frequently undertake entrepreneurial ventures (which I suspect they do, though I have no proof of it), then I'd like to know this, too. I would like to know just how much work we have ahead of us to bridge the gap between singles and marrieds.

These are just some figures pulled directly from the Census Bureau's tables. Over the next weeks and months, statisticians will undoubtedly crunch the numbers, and we'll get more readable data in press releases and major papers. But this is an overview of where we stand as singles in the U.S. at this moment in history. Compare to data from the last survey, reported here in one of the very first Singletude posts, "The Hard Facts About Singles." Are we progressing, regressing, standing still? The number of singles continues to grow, but are we seeing acknowledgment of our shifting demographics in the national consciousness? Are legislators making changes that reflect the new face of the average American, who is not half of a married couple with children?

What do you think? Does the data on singles encourage you, scare you, anger you? Do the stats accurately depict your life as a single, or do they seem off base to you? What kinds of information about singles would you like to see the Census Bureau collect? Do you think cultural awareness and legislation are keeping pace with the realities about singles as revealed by the American Community Survey?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have an unpublished rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a "Singletude Q&A" or your rant or rave in a "Singletude Sound-off"! Singletude makes every effort to republish submissions in their original form but reserves the right to edit your submission for length and clarity.


Shiri said...

This was very interesting. Thank you for sharing! I am African-American, sometimes I wonder why the single statistic is so high for my ethnic group. But I can only answer "why" for myself, and as for me I enjoy being single (to the shock of most of my friends of all ethnicities). You would think I had told them that I enjoy having sex in a harness suspended over a vat of lava.

Terry said...

"Yep, they are just barely squeezing by us singles by the skin of their pre-wedding bleached teeth."

You're hilarious, Elsie!

Churches report that they're seeing dramatically fewer couples getting married these days.

Simone Grant said...

Thanks so much for this. I have a feeling I'm going to be coming back to this data, over and over.

Clever Elsie said...

Shiri: You would think I had told them that I enjoy having sex in a harness suspended over a vat of lava.

I LOVE that metaphor! And good for you for staying true to yourself despite their horrified reaction!

As for me, I'm finding that couples and singles who don't want to be start out dubious about my choice but gradually start asking more questions until they finally accept that I just think differently on the issue.

Terry: Is that so? Hmm. That's particularly interesting since religious communities tend to be bastions of traditional marriage.

Simone: I hope you get a lot of use out of it! :)

Anonymous said...

I worry that as singles become more of a majority, the matrimaniacs will hold even tighter to the myth of the marriage cure-all.

Also, they used the term "non-family households"? Yech. Yet I don't know why I'm so surprised.

Thanks for a great resource, as Simone said.


Clever Elsie said...

Christina: Oh, I think you're right about the matrimaniacs. But my hope is that as we outnumber them, they'll be powerless to do anything other than complain about the loss of their privileged status.

Yeah, I should make a correction about "non-family households." I think the term includes all kinds of families related by blood OR marriage, not just married couples with kids. So if, say, two single sisters lived together or an elderly father with his single adult son, I think those would still be classified as family households. BUT cohabiting romantic partners are NOT considered family households.

Sorry for the mistake! I was misinformed when I posted that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again Elsie--I just now used your post as a handy factoid source. Thanks for taking time to put it together.