One is no longer the loneliest number
By Pauline Oo
From M, summer 2004
If you're a single man or woman between the ages of 18 and 59, chances are you'll spend half your adult life unattached or in a non-cohabiting relationship. Adults today can expect to spend an average of about 19 years living alone--either dating or without a steady companion--according to the authors of the recently released book The Sexual Organization of the City. "It's a pretty startling statistic when you think about what used to be the normal life course--marrying in your 20s and staying with that person for the rest of your adulthood until one of the partners died, which would probably be when you're in your 60s, 70s, or 80s," says Kathleen Hull, a University assistant professor of sociology. In 1940, 8 percent of all households in the United States were made up of one person. In 2000, the proportion rose to 26 percent. Hull says the rising number of single adults can be attributed to a combination of factors, including later marriage, divorce, and people choosing to remain single. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average age of first marriages today is 25 years for women and 27 years for men, the number of currently divorced people has quadrupled since 1970, and more men (32 percent) than women (25 percent) have never married. Even though marriage is on the decline, attention to it remains fierce-from the debate over same--sex unions to reality TV shows on snagging a millionaire--and infatuation for the institution has not waned. "Upwards of 93 to 95 percent of people say they hope to marry in their lifetime," says Hull.
"If you read any Jane Austen novel, people have always taken into consideration another's occupation and family background in considering whether they're an appropriate mate," says sociology professor Kathleen Hull.Experts say women are delaying marriage because they're putting education or career first. Men, on the other hand, are waiting until they are more financially stable. But both have fears of divorce and are smitten with the idea of "the one." Rutgers University's National Marriage Project found that 88 percent of single men and women ages 20 to 29 believe there is one person out there destined to be their soul mate. A whopping 94 percent agree with the statement that "when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost." In addition to delaying marriage, Hull says some people may be embracing singlehood because of "dating fatigue"--a phenomenon afflicting those who are finding the contemporary dating culture draining and unfulfilling. "A lot of these newer techniques, whether it's online dating or speed dating, are meant to speed up the process and take the chance out of [meeting someone] by giving more factual basis to how people come up with possible dates or partners," says Hull. "In a way [this concept is] not really new. If you read any Jane Austen novel, people have always taken into consideration another's occupation and family background in considering whether they're an appropriate mate." Whereas once, singlehood was seen as failure or a form of inadequacy, today, you can travel alone or buy a house without being married, and no one (except maybe your mother) would bat an eyelid. So if you happen to be a single man or woman between the ages of 18 and 59, you're part of a demographic revolution.