Americans are less likely to share their living space with a partner than they were 10 years ago, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.
Whereas 39% of all US adults lived without a spouse or partner in 2007, according to the US Census Bureau, that number has risen to 42% in 2017.
“People are more conscious of the potential costs” of living together, said Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonpartisan group of experts and researchers.
“A good part of it, of course, is the delay in marriage,” said Coontz, who was not involved in the Pew analysis.
The declining marriage rate is large enough to tip the scales, despite an opposing trend: Unmarried adults are still more likely with a romantic partner than before, according to Pew research.
These trends are especially true for those under 35: Approximately 61% of them are “unpartnered,” as opposed to 56% a decade ago. “Unpartnered” people may include couples who live apart, single parents or people who live with their parents.
“They feel like they’re not financially stable, and so they just don’t think that they’re ready to enter into a partner like that” said Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew.
“In the past, it seems like young adults sprung right into marriage, whether or not they felt financially ready, and then built a life and built financial stability as a couple,” Parker said.
“Now, you find that young adults are waiting until they’ve checked some of the other boxes.”
Single And Not Ready To Mingle
Experts disagree on how much of a role divorce plays in the rise of unpartnered adults.
“Divorce has likely not contributed to the growing share of unpartnered adults over this short period,” the Pew analysis says, adding that some statistics even show a stable or declining divorce rate. Experts have also argued that many of the data is flawed, to begin with.
Coontz said it was “a little premature to say” that divorce wasn’t a factor in the rise of unpartnered Americans, but “it’s certainly not the main one.”
Divorce and marriage aren’t equally distributed across all demographics, she said. Adults with less education and lower income typically have higher divorce rates, while Americans who are well educated and wealthier may be less likely to get divorced.
“Unpartnered adults are about twice as likely as partnered adults to be living in poverty,” the Per report said, at 17% versus 7%.
Previous Pew reports have also shown an increase in divorce rates among baby boomers and older adults. However, they are also more likely to get remarried than before, Parker said.
“There’s a lot of complicated moving parts,” she said
Coontz said that in the next 10 years of data, we might be seeing the effects of the recession, including unstable incomes, especially among adults with higher debt and poorer education and job prospects. As a result, people’s caution may rise in making commitments, she said, but that isn’t necessarily a negative way to cope.
“It can actually help if they are taking longer to live together,” Coontz said.
Many experts have pushed for the development of more programs and policies to promote healthy relationships and families among lower-income couples. These include job training, childcare support, and greater access to healthcare services.
Today, women are earning more than they used to, relative to me, Coontz said, so marriage is no longer the embodiment of financial stability that it used to be for heterosexual couples.
Coontz said for many women and men, the question nowadays is “What’s the risk of taking my source of income and hooking up with a guy who might actually be a drain on me?”
Old Married Couples
The ones that are living with their partners more often are the 65 and above age group.
In part, because people are living longer, Parker said, especially in a generation that is more likely to be married.
She said younger people “are waiting now to enter into partnerships until they feel financially stable, but they’re losing out on the financial benefits of being in a partnered household.”
The Pew analysis cites research finding that “marriage causes husbands to be more successful on the job”
“It’s not a casual thing,” said Coontz, who argued that new research suggests the opposite, that many people seem to get married just as they are starting to earn money, “and it’s mostly accounted for by just the stage of life that people are in.”
Coontz said the census findings “should not be generalized to think that everybody who’s not living with somebody is not happy.” For example, on average, individuals who are not married may have a larger network of friends than married couples, she said. Singlehood is viewed with less stigma these days.
The decision to live with a significant other, to get married, represent “a series of living arrangements and interpersonal entanglements that most Americans will experience in the course of their lives,” she wrote for CNN Opinion in September.
“Maybe it’s time for us married couples to stop being so free with advice to our single friends and recognize that we have things to learn from them.”
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