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Record Number of Americans Are Single, and Most Unmarried Americans Never Have Been Married

Happy Unmarried and Single Americans Week!

Since 2006, the Census Bureau has been reporting key statistics about unmarried Americans, in celebration of the week honoring them – the third full week of September. (So, for 2017, it is September 17-23.)

I keep a tally of the key statistics and update them every time there is a new report. Here’s what’s happened over the past 11 years.


More American adults are unmarried than ever before

There are 110.6 million Americans who are divorced or widowed or have never been married; 45.2 percent of people 18 and older. (Have you heard that the percentage is even higher? That’s because some reports start counting at age 15 or 16 instead of 18.)

The year 2017 is, in a way, no different from any other year dating back to the start of the Census Bureau’s celebration of singles week in 2006. Every year, the number of unmarried Americans breaks a record.

Single people are a demographic juggernaut; their numbers just keep growing and growing. That’s been happening for decades. For example, in 1970, there were just 38 million unmarried Americans (instead of 110.6 million), comprising 28.3 percent of all adults (instead of 45.2 percent).


Of all Americans who are not married, the biggest group of them, by far, are people who have been single all their lives

Of all unmarried Americans, nearly two-thirds of them (63.5 percent) have never been married. That’s up from 60 percent in 2005. In part, this is because the median age at which people first marry, of those who do marry, is at an all-time high of 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. That means, for example, that of all men marrying for the first time, half of them are older than 29.5.

The story is not just about putting off marriage until a later age. It has been predicted that a record number of Americans will stay single for life.

The other unmarried Americans are either divorced (23.1 percent of all unmarried adults) or widowed (13.4 percent).


Are most unmarried Americans only unmarried on a technicality – that is, are they cohabiting?

Cohabitation has become more popular over the past decades, but the percentage of unmarried Americans who are actually cohabiting with a romantic partner is quite small. As of the most recent report, 13.2 percent of unmarried Americans were cohabiting. That’s 14.6 million people, or 7.3 million couples (including same-gender and other-gender couples). That makes 96 million Americans who are not married and not cohabiting.


The number of people living alone has also continued to grow

There are now 35.4 million people living alone. As a slice of all households, that’s 28.1 percent. Over the past half-century or so, the surge has been dramatic. In 1950, for example, fewer than 10 percent of all households were comprised of just one person, and 43 percent were nuclear family households (a married mom and dad and the kids). Now, if you were to knock on doors at random across the United States, you would more often find a person living alone than a married-parent family.


A greater proportion of women having children are not married

The most recent report indicated that 35.7 percent of all women (ages 15-50) who had a birth in the last 12 months were divorced or widowed or had always been single. That’s up from 32 percent in 2005.


Unmarried Americans are more highly educated than ever before

Of all unmarried Americans, age 25 and older, 87.5 percent of them now have a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and 27.6 percent of them have a bachelor’s degree or even more education than that. The comparable numbers from 2005 or 2006 were about 83 percent (for high school diplomas) and 23 percent (for bachelor’s or higher).

The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) has issued a press release and a fact sheet in celebration of singles week. I hope that means that you will be seeing lots of stories about single people in the coming week.

Here’s an important quote from the CCF:

In the forthcoming second edition of The Family, University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen notes that the “average American living in 1960 could expect to be married for three-quarters of the years between ages 18 and 55, that is, 29 out of 37 years. By 2015, that number had fallen to 18 years—only about half of those 37 years.”

That’s a conservative estimate of the years of adult life spent single, because it only counts the years up to age 55.

I’ve focused on the demographics in this article. For more substantive discussions of your favorite topics about single people and single life, you can always find collections of links here. I try to update the collections periodically, so stop by if you haven’t been there in a while.

Photo by James Cridland

Record Number of Americans Are Single, and Most Unmarried Americans Never Have Been Married

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2017). Record Number of Americans Are Single, and Most Unmarried Americans Never Have Been Married. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2017
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