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America: The Land of the (Romantically) Free

For the first time on record, more Americans are single than married

(Tim Pannell/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

America is, officially, a singles party. For the first time since 1976, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the numbers, single American adults outnumber married ones.

In 1976, 37.4 percent of American adults were single. Now, unmarried folk dominate, comprising 50.2 percent of the adult population, says Bloomberg. That's 124.6 million Americans that may (or may not) be looking for a date.

While it's easier than ever to meet people for a potential romantic encounter thanks to social media and online dating, says the Takeaway, the real story is that choosing to be single is economically viable and culturally acceptable in a way that it hasn't been during other points in the country's history. The ascendance of America's singles, says sociologist Eric Klinenberg to the Takeaway, has been building for a while:

“Up until the 1950s, you can’t find a single society in the history of our species that sustained large number of people living alone for long periods of time,” he says. “When we hit this prosperity of the post-World War II moment, we see it take off like never before.”

The rise in single Americans mirrors a couple of potentially relevant trends: people are marrying laterthe adolescent phase of “figuring out what to do with your life” is lasting longer, women are earning more and are in the work force in greater numbers, and the teen pregnancy rate is dropping.

Whatever the exact cause behind the trend, the reality is that the change in Americans' relationship status has could have important effects on the structure of the country's economy and social sphere. Single people are more likely to rent houses than to own, says Bloomberg. They often have more disposable income; they're less likely to have children; and they're more likely to volunteer and get involved in organizations and other aspects of public life.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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