Over the past several months, I’ve been tracking a subject I find interesting: the rise in the single adult woman. For the first time ever (!!!), single adult women outnumber married adult women in the U.S., and it doesn’t look like this trend will be changing anytime soon.
Despite rising equality in marriage laws across the country, many women of all sexual orientation are choosing to fly solo. But why?
Award-winning writer and journalist Rebecca Traister, author of the new book All the Single Ladies, recently told NPR that the declining marriage rates among adult women are less about issues with the institution of marriage, and more about the heightened choices available to women today.
Traister noted in her interview with NPR’s Terry Gross that “the shift allows women to build up our economic and professional bases.” As our values change, so does our interest in getting hitched. We aren’t feeling as fenced in by cultural and societal domestication norms, and no longer see marriage as a necessity. In an environment where women are still constantly fighting for equality, this mark is huge.
It’s important to note that a dip in marriage rates doesn’t necessarily mean that women aren’t getting married at all, but that they’re getting married later. While researching the topic for her book, Traister uncovered that 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are married, a stark difference from the 60 percent in 1960. In 1990, the median age for a first marriage for women was over 23. Today, that number has hopped to 27. Many women are choosing to focus on their career, education, or the luxury of living alone before they decide to partner up.
This means marriage no longer signifies the first step into “adulthood.” We’re adulting anyway, partner or not.
Of course, these rates shift based on demographics. As someone who went to college down south, the large majority of my close female friends and acquaintances from that region were married by 25. My friends back east, however, remain single. Most of them have moved to a city, which makes sense. Historically, cities have always been a haven for independent, single women.
I can’t help but wonder if this shift will also alter divorce rates in our country. Typically those who marry younger have a higher chance of eventually divorcing. This makes sense, since you tend to be a totally different animal at 23 than 33. Marrying later means not only you’re likely to be more in tune with your wants and needs by the time you choose a partner, but you’ve also got a handle on functioning alone, so you’re less likely to marry out of co-dependency.
At 27, I’m a prime example of women who are waiting to marry, or deciding not to marry at all. I have a live in partner who I feel committed to, yet the idea of marriage doesn’t feel essential—at least not right now. We’re happily enjoying one another as we focus on our careers and creative goals. Marriage seems like something that could happen should children ever come into the picture–yet another thing that will be impacted by the rise in single women. Birth rates may drop, or at least be delayed, as women much like myself wait until later in life to conceive.
How else will this rise in the single female affect our country? Only time will tell. Until then, Beyonce.