American Young Adults are Suddenly Very Single

It’s a big increase, even from a decade ago.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Many of us still equate growing up with settling down. It’s expected that if you’re not getting hitched, you ought to at least be moving in with someone. But according to new demographic findings from the Pew Research Center, Americans are less into live-in partnerships than they were just a decade ago—especially if they’re young.

The Census Bureau started collecting cohabitation data relatively recently, in 2007. Back then, 39 percent of American adults were “unpartnered,” which is how Pew refers to those who live without a spouse or partner. Now that’s up to 42 percent. The numbers get eye-opening for younger adults: among people 35 years old and younger, 61 percent are currently unpartnered, up from 56 percent a decade ago.

Among the unpartnered, a little over a third—35 percent—live alone. A little under a third—28 percent—live with a parent or grandparent. Others live with their own kids, a sibling or a roommate, reports Pew economist Richard Fry.

Other research speaks to the reasons for these trends. Some economists have argued that youthful singledom is less carefree than it sounds: as traditionally masculine working class jobs (like manufacturing) are replaced by jobs that have been traditionally associated with women (like caregiving), men may have become less attractive partners.

From a more progressive standpoint, the decline may reflect less pressure to partner up. (The fancy word for this pressure is “amatonormativity”: the assumption that an amorous, exclusive relationship should be the organizing principle of one’s life.) University of California, Santa Barbara social psychologist Bella DePaulo, who has pioneered the study of single people, says that the you-need-to-be-coupled-up belief serves no one.

“It’s hurting single people because they’re led to believe that there’s something wrong with them, something wrong with their lives, even if they recognize at some level that they want to be single,” she told New York Magazine. “And it also hurts married people, and people who want to be coupled, because if they’re in a bad relationship, they still think, ‘If I become single, maybe I’m going to be even more unhappy.’” It’s a bias that doesn’t bear out in the research either: aside from some temporary effects, married people aren’t happier or more satisfied with life than the single in the long term.

There are, of course, individual differences in the quality of marriages. Northwestern psychologist Eli Finkel has argued that the best marriages in the U.S. today are the best the country has ever seen, as they offer a mutually supportive environment for not only love, but self realization—so long as both partners are after the same growth-oriented things

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