blackI like to talk about how the United States is increasingly becoming a nation of single people, with 103 million of us, or more than 44%, currently not married (i.e., we are divorced or widowed or have always been single). Americans spend more years of their adult lives not married than married – something that has been true for years.

Yet it doesn’t always seem like we are a nation of singles. One of the reasons for that is that we are such a matrimanical society, always celebrating marriage and coupling and throwing over-the-top weddings, that single people can seem invisible and single life inconsequential.

Another reason is that despite the continuous rise in the number of single people, the United States really is, objectively, the most marrying nation in the Western world. In fact, despite the many commonalities that Western nations share, when it comes to patterns of marriage, the United States really does stand out from all the others – and not necessarily in a good way.

Here are some of the conclusions from a book about American exceptionalism in getting married, and, importantly, unmarried:

  • A greater proportion of adults in the U.S. get married at some point in their lives than in most other Western nations.
  • Americans also get started on marriage (and cohabitation) at earlier ages than people in most other Western countries. This is especially noteworthy since the age at which Americans first marry – among those who do marry – has been increasing for decades.

So Americans marry more often and at younger ages than do adults in other Western nations. But here’s the thing – they divorce more, too.

  • The rate of divorce in the U.S. is higher than in most other Western nations.
  • American’s conjugal relationships – including both marriages and cohabiting relationships – are less enduring than those in other Western nations.

Among Americans who have tried marriage, fewer and fewer of them want to try it again. The rate of remarriage has decreased markedly over the past several decades. And yet, compared to other Western nations, Americans just can’t seem to stay away from the institution.

  • Compared to people in other Western nations, Americans are more likely to get remarried (or to enter a cohabiting relationship) after a previous relationship ends.
  • It is not just adults with no kids who do so. American parents, too, are more likely than other parents to get involved in another relationship after a break-up.
  • American adults have more serious partners (in marriage or cohabitation)over the course of their lives than do adults in other Western nations.

The result of all of these patterns – more marriage, more divorce, more remarriage, more partners – gave the book reporting it all its title – The Marriage-Go-Round. The author has a word of advice, and he thinks that children would benefit if Americans took it to heart: Slow down!

If Americans were not so quick to jump on the next marital horse and ride it into the sunset, maybe we would all realize how many of us are single. Maybe, too, more of the people who step away from the carousel would discover what so many people appreciate about their single lives.

Angry couple image available from Shutterstock.