profile of singlesWhat does the profile of single Americans look like, and how has it changed over the past seven years? That’s a question I can answer, thanks to the annual demographic data reported by the Census Bureau in its “Facts for Features” press release for Unmarried and Single Americans Week (the third full week of September).

In my last post, I showed how the number and percentage of single Americans (always-single, divorced, and widowed) has grown from 89.9 million (41%) in 2005 to 102 million (44.1%) in 2011. I also showed that only a relatively small number of those single people were actually cohabiting with opposite-sex romantic partners (between 9.8 million in 2005 to 13.6 million in 2011).

Here are some more components of the 7-year profile of Americans 18 and older who are single:

1.      There are more single women than single men. Between 2005 and 2007, 54% of all single Americans were women. After that, 53% were women.

2.      Most people who are single have always been single. As with the proportion of singles who are women, the proportion of singles who have always been single has been fairly constant over the past seven years. In 2005, 60% of all singles had always been single; by 2011, the figure rose to 62%. In 2005, 25% of all unmarried Americans were divorced; that figure decreased only to 24% in 2008 and has stayed there. Widowed Americans accounted for 15% of all adults who weren’t married in 2005 until 2009, and 14% after that.

 3.      People who are 65 and older account for only about 1 in 6 of every unmarried American adult. Since 2005, the percentage of single people who are 65 and older has held fairly steady at a little under 17%.

 4.      About a quarter of all single Americans, 18 and older, have educational attainments of at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2005, 23% of single people had at least a bachelor’s degree; by 2010, 25% could claim that level of educational attainment. (I found comparable percentages across all marital statuses only for people 25 and older. With 7 additional years to earn degrees, the numbers are of course higher, ranging from 27.7% in 2005 to 30.4% in 2011.)

 5.      The number of single people living alone has been growing. In 2005, 29.9 million single people lived alone. By 2011, that number had increased to 33 million.

 6.      Most single people do not live alone and do not live with a romantic partner. In my previous post, I showed the total number of single people and the number of people cohabiting with a romantic partner of the opposite sex. (The “Facts for Features” reports do not include data on same-sex couples.) Consider, for example, the most recent year for which data are available. In 2011, there were 102 million single Americans. Subtracting the 13.6 million cohabitors leaves 88.4 million single people who are not cohabiting. Now let’s subtract the number of single people living alone: 88.4 million minus 33 million = 55.4 million single Americans who do not live alone and are not cohabiting. That’s more than half!

So what are the living arrangements of all of those single people? They are living with roommates, friends, or family, or various combinations.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a historical profile of the psychological characteristics of single people? We know, for example, that people who stay single are less extraverted than people who marry. We also know that feelings of personal mastery and self-sufficiency protect single people more than married people from negative emotions. But we don’t know how, if at all, any of these personality characteristics have changed over time.

Single guy photo available from Shutterstock