Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A rising share of Americans have never married. Here's who they are and why they won't tie the knot.
Since none of us are married or planning on getting married in the near future, some friends of mine are planning to start a commune. We've got it all planned out: we're going to live by the beach, drink mai tais all day and surround ourselves with books and puppies. No cats though, we vetoed that one.
It's not just us. To the dismay of every mother whose eyes get glassy at the thought of her child's wedding day, more American adults are in the "never-married" category than ever before, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center. (Which totally makes sense, since more than half the country is now single).
Using 2012 Census data and a new survey, the report finds that 20 percent of U.S. adults over 25 have never been married. In 1960, only half that number—one in ten adults—fit that bill.
Both men and women are getting married at a later age, and alternatives to marriage—such as living together and raising children out of wedlock—are more accepted, says Pew researcher Wendy Wang, one of the authors of the report. In fact, a full quarter of the never-married are living with a partner right now.
Here are some of the responses we got when I asked readers on Facebook whether they want to get married eventually.
This reason for not wanting to get married was particularly compelling:
But apart from a shift in how we view marriage, there's also an imbalance created by economic trends and changing demographics that plays into why this is happening.
"There's a mismatch between what people want and what is there in the marriage market," Wang says.
All the Single Ladies and Gents
Although both are almost twice as likely as before to not be married, men are still more likely to be in this group than women. Before, 10 percent of men and 8 percent of women were never married, whereas now it's 23 percent men versus 17 percent women. The gender gap has definitely widened.
More Never-Married African-Americans Than Ever
All races seem to demonstrate a desire to get married roughly equally, says Wang, but the proportion of black Americans who never married is rising sharply. Among whites and Hispanics, the proportion of adults who never married is double what it was in 1960. Among blacks over 25, the figure has quadrupled (36 percent now v. 9 percent then).
(Data point to keep in mind: Within the never-married pool, whites still make up 51 percent, because they are still a majority overall. African-Americans, 11 percent of the adult U.S. population, make up a quarter of the never-married pool—that's why they're overrepresented.)
Also notable: more blacks than whites say marriage is important for two people who want to spend their lives together.
Demand and Supply in the Marriage Market
When Pew asked people why they haven't married, the most common answers where that a) they hadn't found the ideal person and b) they didn't feel ready financially (each response made up about 27 percent of the total and varied by age).
What are these people looking for in a mate that's so hard to find?
A job. For women especially, this is really important—eight out of ten of them want their future husband to have a steady job, more than anything else. Men, on the other hand, seek a mate who has the same ideas when it comes to raising children.
Now, contrast this with the subset of men who actually have a steady job, and there's the problem. The number of employed men per 100 women has dropped from 139 to 91 in that period.
And in terms of a racial divide, this is even more of an issue.
There are far fewer employed black men per 100 women—only 51. Not only that, but more blacks (77 percent) than whites (59 percent) attach importance to their potential spouse having a job. And even though most Americans tend say they don't necessarily want to marry someone of the same race, the reality is that they do (85 percent of marriages in the U.S. take place between people of the same race and ethnicity). This would seem to be the main reason why the never-married numbers are climbing so rapidly among African-Americans.
Will We Ever Get Married?
It's a question our mothers and concerned relatives most certainly ask from time to time. Often, answering with a quick "at some point" is a good way to avoid follow-up questions—that's what a little over half of the never-married answered in Pew's survey (which is down from 2010, when 61 percent said they'd like to get married eventually).
But if these trends continue, will "eventually" ever come?
Not for a quarter of us. One in four of the currently never-married adults in the U.S. will remain unmarried when we are 40 to 50 years old.