U.S. Singles Made Up 38 Percent of Population in 2019, Less Economically Stable: Study

The population of singles in the U.S. has grown over the past three decades from 29 to 38 percent, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.

The growth of the unpartnered population has been greater in men than women, with a jump of 39 percent for men and 36 percent for women from 1990 to 2019, the study found.

The study found that single people are generally less economically stable than married people.

"Yes, single people are paid less, have fewer resources available to them when they need help, and are disadvantaged in other ways, too," Bella DePaulo, a research psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the AP. "But some of that—maybe a lot of it—is based on discrimination against single people, not on anything that is supposedly wrong with them."

Rise in Single People in U.S.
U.S. singles make up 38 percent of the population and are worse off economically than married people, a new study says. Above, a wedding cake is displayed as members of LGBTIQ community take part in the Zurich Pride on September 4, ahead of a nationwide vote on the marriage for all. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

DePaulo cautioned that this Pew report could further stigmatize the unpartnered population "if it is used as a way of telling a misleading story about those poor single people and what is supposedly wrong with them."

Tuesday's study underscores the economic advantages of being married, especially as the share of single people in the U.S. has grown over the past three decades. The flip side, of course, is that it's harder to be single, researchers say, since the unpartnered population earns less and has less education. Unpartnered men, in particular, are less likely to be employed.

Policymakers should take notice since the unpartnered population is generally economically disadvantaged and less healthy compared with married people or those living with a romantic partner, said Richard Fry, a senior economist at Pew.

"When we look at their health outcomes, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as binge drinking. Single adults don't live as long," Fry said. "Single adults are an at-risk population."

The rise in single people has been driven by a three-decade decline in marriage. The share of adults ages 25 to 54 who are married dropped from two-thirds in 1990 to just over half in 2019, and the share of people who have never married grew from 17 percent to 33 percent. While the unpartnered population includes people who are separated, divorced or widowed, all the growth comes from people who have never been married, the Pew report said.

Around 28 percent of single people between the ages of 25 to 54 are living with their parents, compared to 2 percent for married or partnered couples. Single women earned more in 1990, but their advantage was reversed by 2019 as partnered women became more likely to remain in the workforce.

Population of Singles Rise in U.S.
A new study from the Pew Research Center found the population of singles in the U.S. rose to 38 percent in 2019. This July 28, 2020, file photo shows the icon for the Tinder dating app on a device in New York. Patrick Sison/AP Photo

Single men, meanwhile, have fallen further behind partnered men in earnings and education. Researchers have concluded it's a combination of high-income men being more attractive as partners, and cohabitating boosting men's economic fortunes.

"We have a 'chicken or egg' problem. It's a little bit of both, especially for guys," Fry said. "They are assessed on their financial capabilities, so some of this is because the unpartnered guys tend to have lower earnings. They are having a harder time. They are considered a less suitable partner. It's low earnings and being less educated that is causing them to be unpartnered."

Despite the disadvantages, many single people find that the rewards of being unattached outweigh any economic benefits of being partnered. That includes DePaulo, who wrote an essay for Medium last month celebrating her 50th anniversary of being single as she turned 68.

"Please send gifts—not to me, but to every person you know who is thriving in their single life," she wrote. "Single people who are living fully, joyfully, and unapologetically. People for whom single life is their best life. I call them 'single at heart.' Congratulate them for never caving to the relentless pressure to put a romantic partner at the center of their life."

Single people invest more in friendships and enjoy more freedom and solitude, and some studies show they are happier over time, she said in the email.

"Single people are doing quite well in many ways, despite all the ways they are unfairly disadvantaged relative to people who are married or coupled," DePaulo said.