Mainstream media and research tanks are baffled by the rise in the number of single people, as marriage rates drop to a record low.
One of the big news stories in December was the “shocking” revelation from Pew Research, the highly respected fact tank, that more Americans are staying single — a lot more, with the share of U.S. adults age 18 and older who are married dropping to a record low of 51 percent. That’s right, we singles are 49 percent of the American population and the percentage is growing in a singular direction.
NPR picked up the story and later that day ABC Nightly News featured a segment with Diane Sawyer telling Americans that the rise of the unmarried demographic represents a significant change in our culture. The ABC story, presented along with a montage of nostalgic wedding scenes, included a comment from Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, claiming that the trend to stay single has put the “American dream in peril.” Thankfully, the segment also included an interview with a stunning 40-year-old professional woman who said she would never settle for the wrong guy just for the sake of getting married.
Even though the information about the rise in the number of single people has been available since the completion of the 2010 U.S. Census (a phenomenon often repeated here in Singular magazine), it wasn’t until the Pew Research report that it suddenly became national news. Also news was the fact that no one was sure why this strange trend was happening, not only in the United States but also in industrialized countries around the world.
Everyone’s stunned concern was evidence of the strong pro-marriage bias in our culture and reminded me of the children’s fable Chicken Little, where Henny Penny dashes about declaring, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Fortunately, just as in the fable, there’s no need for despair and certainly no need to incite unreasonable fear in the populace. It’s not the end of the world, I promise.
The reason for the single trend is simple: People have realized that marriage is no longer the next step toward becoming an adult and finding “happily ever after.” Although most of us like the idea that we will one day find a life partner, we’re no longer urgently seeking a mate. We’re too busy going to school, traveling, developing our professions and talents, and learning to be complete as a party of one. We no longer see ourselves as “single”; we see ourselves as “singular” — people who enjoy our independence and don’t consider ourselves desperate daters dying to find a spouse.
The billion-dollar bridal and honeymoon industry need not fret. According to the research, 61 percent of Americans would like to get married one day; they’re just not willing to do so unless they find the right partner. That’s much different from the way things were in my mother’s day. Back then, you finished school, got married and had babies — one, two, three. If you stayed single past a certain age, you were labeled as odd, immature and selfish, at the very least.
Although matrimonial myths remain active in our consciousness with the attendant negative stereotypes about those who are unmarried, the fact is, people in my generation grew up experiencing an unprecedented number of divorces either in our own homes or in the homes of our friends — changing the idea that marriage was the key to lifelong happiness.
Along with that, birth control advances gave us the option of sexual experimentation without the fear of pregnancy, and women have become a force in the economy, many no longer needing to find a husband to provide a roof over their heads. To sum it up: many people today no longer believe they have to get married; they marry when and if they want to get married.
Yes, these changes in society have altered the definition of love and partnership — but the good news is that as the marriage rates decline, so do the divorce rates. That’s because when people take the time to find out who they are and what they want in life; when they spend time living on their own and learn how to thrive independently instead of “needily”; when they let go of the fear of not finding a partner and just get out there and live life to the fullest, the chances are much higher that if and when they do get married, it will be because they are ready for a true partnership with another human being — not because they are following a cultural lockstep, grabbing the nearest likely candidate and marching down the aisle.
America, don’t be afraid of the singular tsunami. Embrace the fact that we have grown up to be independent thinkers and doers. We don’t have a problem with marriage — we simply don’t want to do it unless it’s the right move for us and our partner. Until it is, viva the singular life!
Copyright © Kim Calvert/2012 Singular Communications, LLC.