Singles Nation

Michael Tchong

Singles Nation
They were first spotted during the 1970s in that ahead-of-the-curve state California. No, not yuppies but bumper stickers proclaiming, “Happiness Is Being Single.” Whoever conceived of the slogan was acutely aware of a huge wave reshaping society, as America, and the rest of the world for that matter, is becoming a nation of singles.

With more competition from other ways of living, the proportion of married couples has been shrinking for decades. In 1930, married couples accounted for 84% of households. In 2006, The New York Times somberly declared that “married couples, whose numbers have been declining for decades as a proportion of American households, have finally slipped into a minority.” That alarm may have been slightly premature but the figure did officially dip below 50% for the first time in 2011.

As the below chart shows, the Singles Nation trend took off during the 1970s and has continued its descent with 48% of the nation’s 126 million households in 2017 made up of married couples, according to the Census Bureau.




The trend is fueled by a number of contemporary phenomena. More women in the workforce means decreased dependence on financial support. Out-of-the-closet gays have also had an impact. But the biggest force is the Unwired Ubertrend, which has created a disconnected generation — one that treasures the value of freedom, and underscored by a growing “Control Freak” syndrome.

One example of this phenomenon is the surge in personal ads that seek partners “speced” in almost impossible to satisfy terms. One demanding woman ran this personal ad on Craigslist:

Fabulous Femme Foodie – Seeking Similar Gastronome – 34 (pacific heights). So, if you know the difference between Thai and Laotian, Basque and Tapas, Afghani and Indian, or El Salvadorian and Mexican; know or are willing to believe that the same dish cooked in a clay pot, a cast iron pan, a Le Creuset pot, and a stainless steel one will in fact taste different…”San Francisco Craigslist ad, April 2006
The difficulty of pleasing the modern woman was further illustrated by a Florida Atlantic University survey, whose author concluded that “What it boils down to is that a [beautiful] woman who has it all, wants it all.” Did we really need a survey to confirm that?

The naked truth is that our overly indulgent culture has made everyone wishing for more. Hollywood’s flitting-about ways are rubbing off on Joe Six Pack, leading many to think that “the next one” will be better. Celebrity ogling magazines have many wishing for an Eva Longoria-style wedding, complete with rings donated by Piaget. But while they wait for that better one, many men and women just end up living alone…or with their parents.

Pew Research reports that nearly one-third of young adults lived in their parents’ home in 2014. The “Failure to Launch’ group was larger than those living with a spouse or romantic partner, living alone or with roommates, or living as single parents.

The trend is global. In Australia, one in four Australian households is a single-person household, with rates increasing sharply since the 1970s, paralleling the U.S. experience.

The situation is particularly acute in such big cities as New York and London, where large numbers of singles congregate to find work and relationships. In Paris, for example, 50% of dwellings are inhabited by just one person.

The Control Freak impact on relationships extends to Japan where 54% of Japanese women in their late 20s are single, up from 31% in 1985. And about half of single women ages 35 to 54 have no intention to marry, preferring to pass on the challenges of catering to husbands who refuse to shoulder the household burden.

Our growing solitude goes beyond single households. A December 2004 Knowledge Networks study reported that 45% of primetime viewers now watch TV by themselves, versus 31% a decade earlier. In fact, researchers now consider familial television viewing so remarkable that they’ve coined a new term for it: co-viewing.

And dating singles will soon be replaced by a generation whose life experiences have already eclipsed theirs. In the U.S., the median age for pre-marital sex has dropped to 17.6 among 15-24-year-olds, compared to 20.4 among 55-64-year-olds. Austrians lose their virginity at an even younger age, 17.3, according to a global survey by condom maker Durex.

Meanwhile, more than half of teenagers ages 15 to 19 engage in oral sex, including nearly a quarter of those who’ve never had intercourse. Among those interviewed by the National Survey of Family Growth in 2002, 95% of adults reported they had had premarital sex.

Not that there’s anything wrong with marriage. Despite their new-age attitudes, most young people still aspire to marry and settle down. But the reality is that more appear to conclude that being single and waiting for that better next one is a preferable pastime, with far-reaching results. Is it time to revive that 1970s bumper sticker? 😍

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Michael Tchong

Michael is a professional trend forecaster and founder of four ahead-of-the-wave startups. He’s also a top-rated innovation and trends speaker, and an adjunct professor of innovation and social media at the University of San Francisco. Follow him by clicking these buttons: