Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

September 17,  2007  



Ranks of unmarried adults reach 100 million mark

By Thomas F. Coleman

Statistics released last week by the Census Bureau show that 100 million adults in the United States are unmarried.  This is up from a report showing 90 million unmarried adults just one year earlier.

Data also showed that unmarried adults continue to head up a majority of households in the nation.

These figures are based on the American Community Survey for 2006.  About three million households from every county in the nation were included in the survey.

Some 44.3 percent of adults are currently unmarried.   They include 12.2 million widows and 3 million widowers, as well as 25 million men and women who are divorced.  In addition, there are 32.8 million men and 27.1 million women who have never married.

Last year's report showed that married couples headed a minority of households for the first time in U.S. history.  The percent remained the same in this year's report.

According to the 2006 American Community Survey, unmarried adults headed up some 50.3 percent of the nation's households, as well as a majority of households in 22 states and more than 300 cities.

The configuration of these unmarried households is quite diverse. 

More than 30 million Americans live alone, far outnumbering the 24.2 million households which contain married couples with children under 18 years of age.

The 10.8 million single parent homes include 2.5 million single dads with custody of their children and 8.3 million single mothers.

About 12 million adults are living with an unmarried partner while some 47 million unmarried Americans are living with relatives.

The new Census Report was released on the eve of Unmarried and Single Americans Week which is commemorated during September 16 to September 22. 

The growth of unmarried households is not confined to the United States.  Statistics Canada, the equivalent of our Census Bureau, recently released a report with data from 2006.

Some 50.8 percent of Canada's 12.4 million households are headed by unmarried adults.  The 3.4 million married-with-children living arrangements only slightly outnumbered the 3.3 million one-person households. 

Another 1.4 million homes contained unmarried couples, 44 percent of whom are raising children.  A similar number of households contained single parent families.

For the first time, Canada counted same-sex couples in its official census.  The report documented 45,350 households containing same-sex couples.  More than 7,000 of them were legally married.

The legal status of unmarried people is vastly different in Canada than in the United States. 

In Canada, the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal Charter of Rights prohibits marital status discrimination.  Provincial and federal statutes also provide a vast array of legal protections for unmarried couples.  Federal law recognizes the legality of same-sex marriages.

In the United States, federal civil rights laws do not include marital status discrimination and federal courts rarely find such discrimination by government agencies to be a violation of the Constitution.  The federal Defense of Marriage Act specifically states that same-sex relationships shall not be considered as legal marriages.

Data from Great Britain show that slightly fewer than half of the 24.2 million households in that nation contain a legally married couple.  About 29 percent of British households contain just one person.

The minority status of married couples in British households can be attributed, in part, to the fact that young Brits are delaying marriage.  The average age at which people get married for the first time  has continued to rise. In 1971 the average age at first marriage was 25 for men and 23 for women in England and Wales. By 2005 this had increased to 32 for men and 29 for women.

While the United Kingdom does not allow same-sex couples to legally marry, the government has enacted a "civil partnership" law which affords same-sex partnerships the same legal rights and protections as marriage.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into effect across the UK in December 2005. Between December 2005 and September 2006, 15,700 civil partnerships were formed.

About 43 percent of British children are now born to unmarried parents.  This compares with about 37 percent in the United States.

To read other editions of Column One, click here.

Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.