Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

October 2,  2006  



Most singles not desperately seeking romance

By Thomas F. Coleman


From what we read in magazines, hear on radio, and see on television and in movies, one would think that most single people either have a steady lover, are cohabiting with a significant other, or are actively seeking a romantic partner.  Not so.

Results of a national survey released by the Pew Research Center earlier this year show that those who hold such a belief are sorely mistaken.  Most singles are not in a romantic relationship nor are they actively seeking one.

The Pew Research Center describes itself as a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The survey, conducted during the fall of 2005, found that 43 percent of adults (then 87 million people) say they are single.  This figure corresponds with data from the Census Bureau.

Here are some interesting findings of the singles survey:

  • 55 percent of single people report no active interest in seeking a romantic partner. This is especially true for women, for those who have been widowed or divorced, and for older singles.

  • 26 percent of unmarried adults are in a "committed relationship."

  • 16 percent said they are currently looking for a romantic partner.

Even among younger unmarried adults, the quest to find romance is not very prominent. About 38% of singles ages 18-29 say they are not currently looking for a romantic partner, compared to 22% in that age cohort who are looking for partners. The rest say they are already in committed relationships.

Nearly half of the younger singles who are seeking relationships say they date rather infrequently. Some 49% say they had been on no more than one date in the previous three months.

So if 55 percent of all single people, and 38 percent of young singles, are not actively seeking a romantic partner, what does this mean for our marriage-centered society?

Philip Morgan, a Duke University sociology professor who helped prepare the Pew survey on singles, says that after years of believing that single people must want to be married, Americans should now consider the possibility that this simply isn't true.

If single people are not spending a lot of time searching for a potential marriage partner, then what are they doing with their time? 

"They're buying houses on their own, having children on their own, and even planning to retire on their own."  That's what the Boston Globe said in a feature story it published about single people last June.

There are a lot of myths and stereotypes about single people -- who they are, how they feel, what their interests are, and how much better off they would be if they were married.  Not a lot of solid research has focused on the lives and concerns of single people.

We would all know much more about this growing segment of our society if the American media would do some serious investigative reporting about single people.  As it now stands, most reporting about singles focuses on dating, matchmaking, romance, and failed romance.  What about the other 95 percent of the lives of single people?

Perhaps newspaper editors, television producers, and radio talk show hosts don't think that the everyday interests of single people are sexy enough to sell more papers or attract larger audiences.  They don't see single people as a potential target of marketing. If this is the way they feel, then they should think again.

Single people spend $1.6 trillion annually.  They comprise more than 42 percent of the American workforce, 35 percent of voters nationally, and head up the majority of households in the nation.  In dozens of media markets, there are now "super unmarried majorities" where more than 70 percent of households are maintained by unmarried adults.

Considering marital status trends over the past few decades, it is likely that America will become even less marriage oriented in years to come.  The fact that a majority of American households are now unmarried should have captured the attention of corporate executives who control media programming or at least sparked an interest by media marketing professionals.

It's time for broadcast and print journalism in this country to devote some serious time and space to the concerns and needs of Unmarried America.  As the Pew survey demonstrates, the lives of single people involve much more than dating and romance.

Unmarried America 2006

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.