millions of singlesThe third full week of September marks the beginning of National Singles Week, or more formally, Unmarried and Single Americans Week. In 2012, the official dates are Sunday September 16 through Saturday September 22.

For a while now, the Census Bureau has been marking the event by issuing an annual “Facts for Features” press release with the most recent statistics. I have been collecting these press releases since 2006, so I thought I’d kick off the week by showing you some of the single-person trends over the seven years. Each press release reports data from the year before, so the relevant years are 2005 through 2011.

The first finding is that there were several million more single people (always-single, divorced, or widowed) in 2011 than 2010. If you look at the numbers below, you will see that just about every fresh report shows that another couple of million single people have been added to the population. (The year 2007 appears to be an exception, but that year, the press release used the same data as the year before.)

Number and percent of single Americans (always-single, divorced, and widowed) 18 and older

2005  89.8 million, 41%

2006  92 million, 42%

2007  92 million, 42% (no new data)

2008  95.9 million, 43%

2009  96.6 million, 43%

2010  99.6 million, 43.6%

2011  102 million, 44.1%

As you can see, there are now more than 100 million adults in the US who are not married. Every year, we get closer to the point at which there are just as many single Americans 18 and older as married ones. If you seem to remember that we had already passed the halfway point, you may be thinking of a New York Times article that counted singles starting at age 15 instead of 18.

Those who like to poo-poo the rise of single people are fond of noting that cohabitation is also on the rise, so perhaps many of these single people are single only in the sense that they do not have an official marriage license. Maybe they are actually cohabiting with a romantic partner and so living as a couple.

Happily, the “Facts for Features” press release includes a report of the number of people cohabiting with a romantic partner (though only opposite-sex pairings are noted).

Number of unmarried Americans cohabiting with an opposite-sex romantic partner

2005, 9.8 million

2006, 10 million

2007, 12 million

2008, 12.4 million

2009, 12.4 million (no new data)

2010, 13 million

2011, 13.6 million

It is a simple matter to subtract these cohabitors from the total number of single people, to get the number of singles who are not living with an opposite-sex romantic partner.

Number of single people not cohabiting with an opposite-sex romantic partner

2005, 80 million

2006, 82 million

2007, 80 million*

2008, 83.5 million

2009, 84.2 million

2010, 86.6 million

2011, 88.4 million

*The 2007 estimate is probably low because there were no new data reported on cohabitation for 2007. Data from the previous year were included instead.

Bottom line: The number of single people continues to grow almost every year, usually by more than a million. The number of singles who are cohabiting amounts to just a small fraction of the total number of people who are single.

In later posts, I’ll describe the trends over the past seven years in the characteristics of single people, in the ways they are living, and in single parenting.

Happy Singles Week!

[A few things to keep in mind about the numbers: There are different surveys that have been conducted to assess demographic trends, and sometimes different criteria are used in different reports. For example, some people report the number of single people who are 15 and older. I don’t like to do that – I prefer to start counting at age 18. The point is that if you see different statistics in different places, you could be seeing results from different surveys or reports using different criteria.]

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