September 24, 2006
‘1’ is no longer the
loneliest number as single households now in majority
By Kelley Kazek
Athens News Courier
When the Rev. Terry Jackson came to
Athens nearly 12 years ago, he may as well have had a bull’s-eye
over his heart.
The 32-year-old, never-married pastor of Athens Church of God was
likely the best target for matchmakers to join the congregation in
“When I first got there, I did meet everybody’s unmarried niece,”
Now 44, Jackson said people have given up on the idea of matchmaking
and realized what he’s wanted them to all along: He’s happy being
But he’s not single by design.
“I had everything planned out — by the time I was 25, I’d be
married, have kids, a career, the typical American thing,” he says.
“Life just didn’t work out that way…it’s not that I’m opposed to the
idea, but right now life is full and I am happy.”
Jackson wants people to understand single people are not outsiders,
and now that the number of single-headed households has reached the
majority in America, he may get his wish.
Single people (whether never-married, divorced or widowed) now head
50.3 percent of households in the country, according to the Census
Bureau’s American Community Survey, a 2005 supplement to the 2000
Alabama is one of 23 states in which single-headed households are
the majority. According to the Census supplement, single people head
50.2 percent of Alabama households. Top cities for singles in the
state are Birmingham (71.5 percent), Tuscaloosa (65 percent), Mobile
(64 percent), Huntsville (58.7 percent) and Montgomery (59.8
In Limestone County, single people head 44 percent of households.
The upshot is that society and government need to rethink a
structure in which married couples receive a larger share of
benefits, said Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the
California-based group Unmarried America, which disseminates
information on singles trends.
“It made sense to have employment benefits geared toward married
couples with children when, in the 1950s, 75 percent of American
households consisted of married couples with children at home,”
Coleman said. Taxes, employment benefits and even working hours
should be reconsidered now that 42 percent of the workforce is
“Marriage is a very highly personal matter,” he said. “The
government needs to tread very lightly with how it uses marital
status to reward or punish people, so to speak. People should be
treated more as individuals.”
One: Not the loneliest
The trend of increasing numbers of singles in America can be traced
to a wide array of factors, Coleman said, including:
• More choices for women;
• Societal acceptance of cohabitation;
• Divorce rate;
• Societal acceptance of having children out of wedlock;
• Longevity leading to more widowed elderly.
“I think a lot of it started a couple of decades ago with the
choices women were making,” Coleman said. “Instead of graduating
high school, getting married and raising a family, they made other
choices, to go to college and start a career, which meant for many
women, delaying marriage.”
In 1970, only 7.8 percent of Americans aged 30 to 34 had never
married. By 2003, the number of never-marrieds in that age group was
27.9 percent, according to Unmarried America.
In addition, the stigma against couples living together without
marrying has lessened.
“Cohabitation out of wedlock used to be very taboo,” he said. “Now,
in addition to the 12 million people cohabitating at any given time,
a majority of people who marry now cohabitate first. That causes an
increase in the unmarried population.”
Coleman said although the divorce rate has leveled off, it remains
stuck at a high level — about half of all marriages end in divorce.
One effect of that trend is single parenthood is more common and
more acceptable, making it less of a stigma for people who want to
have children without marrying.
“More people, some by choice, others by accident, are having
children out of wedlock,” he said. “About one-third of all children
are born to unmarried parents.”
W. Bradford Wilcox, an assistant professor of sociology at the
University of Virginia whose research focuses on the affect of
religion on family trends, added to Coleman’s list of reasons for an
increase in singles: Careers, sex and secularization.
“The sexual revolution is one of the obvious reasons,” he said. “One
reason people used to get married was to have sex. Another reason
people are putting off marriage is that folks are taking a more
hedonistic approach to life; they don’t necessarily see marriage and
children as part of a good life. They see it as being tied down, a
ball and chain.”
Not just women but men are taking longer to complete educations and
start careers, Wilcox said.
“It takes longer for people now to get established in a career, so
people are putting off marriage,” Wilcox said.
In addition, fewer people are associated with churches, which
“Secularization has increased in the United States,” he said.
“Fourteen percent are unaffiliated with a religion now, compared to
four percent in the 1950s.”
Reaching out to singles
The growing single population is largely staying away from churches,
“Singles are less likely to attend church than are married Americans
and that’s particularly true for men as compared to women,” he said.
“Men really associate churchgoing with their status as a family man,
a married man with kids. If they are not married to the mother of
their children, they are much less likely to see themselves in a
paternal role conducive toward churchgoing.”
While women are also more likely to go to church if they are married
and have children, their attendance is less affected by single
“If they are divorced, they may continue going to the congregation
they had been prior to the divorce,” he said. “Women who divorce,
whether secular or religious, will seek out more intensive
experiences. They may turn to evangelical churches to provide moral
or social support.”
Wilson said in a national survey conducted by the University of
Chicago, 32 percent of men and 39 percent of women who were married
with children attended church on a weekly basis; while 15 percent of
men and 23 percent of women who are single without children
Churches are hoping to change that trend by reaching out to singles.
“A lot of churches, particularly larger churches, have pretty strong
singles ministries offering people everything from advice to cooking
classes,” Wilcox said. “Certainly some churches are trying to reach
out to people not in a traditional family structure, but small
churches are not doing a lot.”
For some, church is a place to meet a mate.
“Some religious and/or marriage-minded singles go to church
precisely to meet people,” Wilcox said. “Other folks are looking to
meet people at bars or clubs or through friends. People are more
likely to have successful courtship with people they meet in church
compared to people meet in bars or clubs.”
While Terry Jackson doesn’t believe churches should be used as
dating services, his staff at Athens Church of God is reaching out
to singles. The church started a Sunday school class called Single
Adult Fellowship Education. Currently, all ages of singles attend,
whether never married, divorced or widowed, but Jackson hopes to
break into specialized groups to meet more specific needs as the
Though many churches have started singles programs, Jackson said
some congregations still treat singles as “pariahs.”
“Because we have single people in leadership (at Athens Church of
God), I think singles feel comfortable and less pressured at our
church,” he said.
In the singles Sunday school class, topics of discussion are broad
enough for all age ranges and living situations. “They mostly talk
about issues important to singles regardless of whether they are
single by choice, by divorce or through death because a lot of us
share the same issues and concerns as single people living alone,”
The first topic is self esteem “because single people are kind of
pushed to the outside and do feel like they are less than fully
human in some ways,” Jackson said. “I don’t think churches always
meet their needs.”
The goal of churches, he said, should be to create family.
“Especially if they come to the area and have no family ties, we
have to create family for them,” he said. “Sometimes they create a
family stronger than the family you’re born in.”
Jackson said a verse in 1 Corinthians refers to being single as a
gift. Single people have more time to serve God, he said.
He hopes others will soon realize that “our martial state neither
adds nor subtracts from our value as people.”