Andy, Aunt Bea, Barney, Gomer, Thelma and the rest of the characters on The Andy Griffith Show had one thing in common – all were single.
In a day when reality shows are so prevalent, some look back to the golden age of television with fondness. One show, certainly a regional favorite, stands out among them in both physical and cultural proximity — The Andy Griffith Show. What one may fail to notice is the “reality” dimensions of that show.
No, it’s not that the local drunk has access to the keys to the cell, or a rock-throwing anarchist rarely seems to really get arrested, or a goat could really swallow dynamite.
What do Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, Helen, Ellie Walker, Peggy, or Thelma Lou, Gomer, Goober, Howard Sprague and even Ernest T. Bass have in common with almost 100 million adults in America today?
They were all single.
Think of it — in a day when families were measured against the image of the perfect type — dad (usually going or coming from work), mom (usually doing the laundry or preparing a meal), two kids (always one smarter, more popular, more athletic than the other), it was always there, a show where most of the adults in town were single.
They were just as varied as today’s singles — Andy was widowed, as was Aunt Bea. Barney, Thelma Lou, and Helen were all single (non-married) living by themselves. Even Howard had his “bachelor pad.” Gomer and Goober may have shared a home — they were cousins after all.
Though we didn’t hear of divorce (it was 1960s TV), we always wondered about some of Andy’s girlfriends – surely one or both of the fun girls, Skippy and Daphne from Mount Pilot, with their husky “Hello, Bernie,” had probably given marriage a try. By the way, according to the National Opinion Research Center, only 25 percent of American households consist of what most people think of as a “traditional” family (i.e., a married couple with their children).
In the 2007 census, 96 million Americans above the age of 18 years old were separated, singled or single again (represents 43 percent of the adult population). Forty-eight percent of these are women, and 44 percent are men, up from 40 percent and 35 percent respectively in 1970.
These are adults who are single by chance, change or choice. Sixty percent are never married, 23 percent are divorced or separated, and 17 percent are widowed. Only 15 percent of these are 65 years old or older, leaving almost 87 million between the ages of 18 and 65. For the first time in our history, married couples have lost their status as the dominant household type in the U.S.
Three things seem to have contributed to the growth of the single population in the last three decades. The first is an increase in divorce rates. On average, there is one marriage every 15 seconds in America. A divorce is granted almost every 23 seconds.
The second contributing factor is an increase in the average age of first marriages. The average age for first marriages is 27.6 years and 25.9 years for men and women respectively. That’s almost a five-year increase since 1970.
More individuals are also choosing to remain unmarried than ever before — currently about 69 percent of all singles.
From 1970 to 2000, unmarried men increased from 33 to 47 percent, unmarried women from 38 to 51 percent. Currently, the percentage of total unmarried men and women now exceeds 50 percent.
This shift in population has some interesting and far-reaching implications. Single adults make up 49.8 percent or half of all U.S. consumer units; their annual expenditures is a whopping $1.6 trillion — that’s 35.1 percent of the total annual consumer expenditures. Thirty-five percent or 37 million voters who participated in the 2000 presidential election were divorced, widowed, or never married. Nearly 57 million of the 133.3 million people who were employed in 2002 were unmarried. During that same time, 63 percent of the unemployed people were single adults.
In a cover story published in October 2003 aptly entitled, “Unmarried America,” BusinessWeek magazine predicted the emergence of an unmarried majority and examined the implications for American society. The story suggested that workplace policies, business procedures and government programs would need re-evaluation since so much has been premised on a married-majority model. It also summarized areas in which unmarried Americans experience disadvantages including fewer job benefits, high unemployment, lower pay, higher taxes, lower social security and unemployment benefits, fewer estate tax breaks and higher auto insurances rates.
This population is sometimes singled out (pun intended) for unfair treatment in the workplace, the marketplace, and the federal tax structure. But they are not simply victims of singlism. Many, if not most, single people are finding meaning and purpose in their single life experience.
In her book, Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, Bella DePaulo debunks several myths of singlehood. One is “the Dark Aura of Singlehood” — a myth that suggests if you are single, “you are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.” For single women, the myth is “your work won’t love you back,” for single men it’s “you are slovenly, impossible, and frivolous.” The myth of all single parents, she writes, is “your kids are doomed.” DePaulo also debunks one of the most prevalent myths of singlehood — “you will grow old alone, and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.”
Prominent people in politics, the popular press, and intellectuals have also taken turns at peddling myths about singlehood such as, “There is something wrong with you since you are still single.”
Aunt Bea and Clara had their spats, but they considered each other best friends. Barney was tempted to stray with Juanita from the diner, but we always imagined he would wind up with Thelma Lou and settled down. And Andy always seemed to be whistling as he walked to the ol’ fishin’ hole.
Special thanks to The Salisbury Post in Salisbury, North Carolina.