The message is delivered in many different formats—wedding invitations, baby announcements, Facebook feeds documenting domestic bliss in excruciating detail. And although no one ever says it aloud, it can make a single person feel out of step, like a lonely outlier in a couples’ world.
So here’s some interesting news that won’t come in a thick cream-colored envelope: Single people are now the majority of Americans. This month, Bloomberg news reported that 50.2% of the adult population now identifies as single; in 1976 it was 37.4%.
After this story broke, a reporter asked me to comment on how Americans would be affected by this trend. “Is it important and necessary to think about an increase of singles in the United States or is it not worth it to panic or worry about?” she asked.
Those were my choices—panic or don’t panic. It apparently hadn’t occurred to the reporter that a single majority might bring many benefits to the culture at large. I think it will, because there are already many areas where the rise of single people has made life better for everyone.
We may have fewer marriages than ever before, but we also have fewer divorces—the nation’s divorce rate peaked in 1980 and has been steadily going down ever since. So despite what we hear about the “decline” of marriage, it’s actually stronger than ever—or it is if you’re judging on quality rather than quantity.
What does this have to do with single people? Everything. When you don’t feel social pressure to wed, then you have the luxury of marrying for love—as opposed to you’re 26 and this person fits the gown or suit. When you exercise the option to decline marriage—or wait until you’re truly ready—you’re contributing to this encouraging trend. The longer you wait to marry, the lower your risk of divorce. And of course, if you choose to remain single—as oppose to marrying because you feel like it’s expected of you—your risk of divorce is 0%.
We often think of married couples as the pillars of our society, but research by sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian found single people devote more time to helping friends and family members than their married peers, and unmarried women attend more political rallies and sign more petitions. Single people also attend more concerts, take more art classes and go to more movie theaters and restaurants than their married cohorts, says sociologist Eric Klinenberg.
Granted, going out for sushi isn’t curing cancer, but it is important that people leave the house.
3) The Environment
Single people tend to live in urban areas, while married people are more likely to reside in more rural or suburban locales. While country dwellers may claim a deep appreciation of nature, their city cousins live more planet-friendly lifestyles.
“A family of four with two cars, long commutes, and a 2,500 square-foot-house in the suburbs will leave a greater carbon footprint than four individual city dwellers who live in compact apartments and use public transportation (or, better, walk) to reach work,” writes Klinenberg in Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. That’s why Manhattan, the capital of American’s singleton society, is also the nation’s greenest city.”
And then there is the issue of children—single people are less likely to have them. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: Kids are awesome, but population-growth projections plainly show that future generations (i.e., your friends’ kids and grandkids) will be much better off if some of us refrain from having them.
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