According to the 1990 Census, non-family households--including singles, non- married couples, homosexual couples and roommates--are up to 30%, from 27% one decade earlier. The percentage of traditional families--married couples with or without children--is at its lowest rate in at least 200 years. In 1980, married couple families comprised 60% of households; in 1990, they constituted about 55.2%.


Getting old,--twenty-five today
I've been told
Don't like sitting, cats, or knitting. No!
Want a man to keep me on the go.
--"Old Maid Blues," 1916 Song

From the files:

Among the more impressive changes in the American landscape monitored by demographers is the dramatic increase in singles. Between 1970 and 1990, the percentage of American women 18 years of age and older who were single increased from 32% to 40%, while the percentage of single men increased from 22% to 36%. By 2000, according to the Census Bureau, 60% of American adults were wed--compared to 72% in 1970; 10% of all adults will never never. While the elderly comprise the largest percentage of those living alone, some 40%, the average of singles has shown a significant decline as Americans increasingly cohabit and postpone the timing of their first marriages. The Wall Street Journal reported in 1986 (Joann Lublin, "Rise in Never-Marrieds Affects Social Customs and Buying Habits," May 28) the following table:


AGE 2000
1985 1980 1970
MEN 25-29 63.4% 38.7% 33.1% 19.1%
30-34 35.1 20.8 15.9 9.4
WOMEN 25-29 45.8 26.4 20.9 10.5
30-34 30.8 13.5 9.5 6.2
* = estimated, based on combined 2000-2002 NORC General Social Surveys

According to the 2000 Census, over 48% of American households are headed by unmarried people.   Boomers are 500% more likely than their parents to be single (Single Adult Ministries Journal,  1993).  Perhaps that is why National Unmarried & Single Americans Week is observed in September. 

Among the routes to singlehood--e.g., divorce, separation, and widowhood (which is why, in 1993, 46% of single women were 65 and older vs. only 17% of single men)--let us here briefly consider the "never-marrieds." Click here to see longitudinal changes in the percent of ever-marrieds by age, sex and race, 1973-1994. Perhaps the most striking differences in this graph involve racial comparisons. According to the Census Bureau, for example, at age forty, one-quarter of African-American women have never married, compared to one in ten white women. Fifteen years earlier, 90% of black females had married by this age.

So are there any basic differences in emotional outlooks between never- marrieds and their married counterparts? When asked "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days-- would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?", we find in total that married Americans are 70 percent more likely to report being very happy (40.1% of 17,568) than their never married counterparts (23.4% of 5,176). Before making any claims about the happiness-inducing powers of marriage, several controls are in order, especially sex, age, and education (whose categories here include: < high school degree, high school grad, some college, and 4+ years of college). Click here to see the relationships. No real surprises here. Studies consistently show how marriage and family life are Americans' chief sources of life-satisfaction.

What are some of the social consequences of this growing population of singles? Certainly, given the service sector's commodification of all aspects of family life, one could expect a growing singles industry.

Alternatives to Marriage Project  "a national non-profit organization for unmarried people, including people who choose not to marry, cannot marry, or are among the majority of people who live together before marriage"


In the United States, every state legislature makes its own rules about who can marry whom. There are, for instance, 29 states permitting first cousins to marry; in Mississippi, females can marry at 15 while in most other states they must be 18. Federal law requires that each state recognize marriages that are legal in another under the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution. Controversy erupted in late 1996 when a Hawaii Circuit Court judge ruled that the state had to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At the time, 16 states had passed laws banning same-sex marriage and another 20 had rejected such laws.

The year 2003 was another threshold year in the debate.  First, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Lawrence vs. Texas,  struck down the anti-sodomy laws of 13 states.  (According to Associated Press, every state had such statutes in 1960, with most having been repealed by state legislatures or blocked by state courts.)  In November, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same- and opposite-sex couples must be given equal civil marriage rights under the state constitution. The ruling,  Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health, made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to grant same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage license.   Legal ceremonies began in May 2004 amid massive controversy--a year when 38 states had laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union.

So should homosexual couples have marriage rights? Debate over this topic has certainly been heated. In our 2004 family class here at Trinity, 65% agreed that "the government should legally recognize marriages between homosexuals"--down from 74% in 1995.  We certainly don't reflect the broader American public. An October 1989 poll conducted for TIME/CNN by Yankelovich Clancy Shulman (n=1000; cited in Walter Isaacson's "Should Gays Have Marriage Rights?" Time [Nov. 20, 1989]:101-102) found:

For post-2000 survey results, see Public Agenda's Gay Rights: Red Flags (posted 2004).  You will find, for instance, surprisingly little change on most items except on matters regarding adoption rights.  In 2000, according to a Newsweek poll, 39% supported the rights of gay spouses to adopt.

In its 1988 General Social Survey, NORC asked a random sample of American adults the question: "Homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another--do you agree or disagree?" (variable MARHOMO) Only 12% agreed or agreed strongly, 20% either said they neither agreed or disagreed, 24% disagreed, and 44% disagreed strongly. Among the correlates:

Are children raised by gay parents more likely to have psychological problems than those raised in two- or one-parent households? According to studies reported in the December 1992 issue of Child Development, the answer is no. Between six and fourteen million children are currently living in roughly four million homes of homosexual parents. And what if such unions break-up? Does, for instance, a lesbian have visitation rights to the child born (through artificial insemination) to her former companion?

Interview with E.J. Graff, author of What is Marriage For?
Paul Halsell's "Lesbian and Gay Marriage through History and Culture"

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