The U.S. Census Bureau just released the statistics for the most recent full year (2018) on the number of people who are and are not married. In just one year, between 2017 and 2018, an additional 2.1 million people were unmarried (divorced, widowed, or had always been single). For 2018, that was a total of 117.8 million people, 18 and older.
As a percentage of all adults in that age range, it is 47.3%, inching ever closer to half. (If you have heard that the number of single people has already surpassed half, that’s probably because some reports start counting at age 15 or 16, which results in proportionately more single people.)
Unmarried women came closer to accounting for half of all women 18 and older, at 49%. There were 62.9 million of them in 2018. Unmarried men accounted for 45.5% of all men. There were 55 million of them.
One thing that should happen when more and more people are single is that the media should start to recognize that there’s probably something going on here that is defying the stereotype that single people are miserable. Sure, some people are single and don’t want to be, but when the numbers keep growing, that probably means that the number choosing to be single is growing, too.
As a social scientist, I would like to see a systematic study of whether media coverage of single people is becoming more positive. I don’t know of any such research, so for a hint, I did a quick Google search of “benefits of being single.” I looked only at results dating back to 2017, and I’m only picking out relatively high-profile places. I stopped after the first 6 pages of results.
Here are some of the relevant articles I found:
The surprising benefits of being single (Yahoo)
The unexpected benefits of being single, according to experts (Oprah magazine)
Being single may make you happier (Marie Claire)
Science-based reasons you’re better off single (Insider)
7 amazing things I’ve been able to experience because I’m single (Your Tango)
9 ways being single can improve your life (Time magazine)
5 health benefits of being single (US News)
27 undeniable benefits of being single (BuzzFeed)
7 unexpected benefits of being single, according to experts (Bustle)
9 surprising benefits of being single that no one has told you before (Life Hack)
20 benefits of being single (MSN)
Benefits of being single (Business Insider)
9 surprising health benefits of being single (Insider)
How staying single could actually improve your health (The Independent)
I find these results heartening. Maybe in a few years, the benefits of single life will no longer be described as “surprising” or “unexpected.”
When I googled “costs of being single,” I found many articles about the financial challenges, of which there are many (especially for those who live alone and have to pay all their bills on their own). There were fewer than I expected on the psychological costs.
I also googled “disadvantages of being single” and a reassuring number of those articles were about both the advantages and the disadvantages.
Overall, I have no doubt that singlism and matrimania are still rampant. (Singlism is the stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing and discrimination against single people; matrimania is the over-the-top valuing and celebrating of marriage, couples, and weddings.) But the storylines are not nearly as likely to stereotype or shame single people as they were in the past. Affirming narratives are no longer unusual. That’s something.