Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

August 30, 2005



Unmarried households becoming the "new majority"

by Thomas F. Coleman
The United States Census Bureau released data today which shows a continuing decline in married-couple households and a corresponding increase in the percent of households headed by unmarried adults.  If the trend continues, within the next year or two unmarried adults will become the "new majority" in terms of America's living arrangements.

The American Community Survey (ACS) results were released in connection with a press conference conducted today by the United States Census Bureau.  ACS estimates are  based on monthly samples of households throughout the nation taken during January through December 2004, in which more than 700,000 responses are analyzed.

The 2004 survey shows that about 49.8 percent of the nation's 109.9 million housing units have a head of household who is not married.  That is up from 44.9 percent as reported by the full census in 1990 and 48.3 percent by the full census in 2000.

The living arrangements of unmarried households are very diverse.  Some 29.6 million people live alone.  Other unmarried households include 8.3 single mothers, and 2.4 single dads.

Adult blood relatives are living together in about 8 million households, while the remaining 6.4 million households contain unmarried partners or roommates.

Just as the nation's households are being transformed into a mosaic of diversity, so is the nation's workforce.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 42 percent of the workforce is unmarried and that about 65 percent of American workers do not have minor children at home.

Public officials and government agencies have begun to pay more attention to unmarried and single Americans in recent years. 

For example, mayors and governors in about 33 states have issued proclamations declaring the third week of September to be "Unmarried and Single Americans Week."  This year the Census Bureau issued a special press release to acknowledge the occasion, just as it acknowledges Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Grandparents Day each year.

Some governors have gone way beyond the symbolism of proclamations and have signed substantive measures into law.  Republican Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and George Pataki of New York have approved bills in recent years giving rights and benefits to unmarried couples. 

Schwarzenegger currently has another major bill on his desk (AB 1400) and must soon decide whether to approve the addition of "marital status" to a state statute which prohibits businesses from discriminating against consumers.  Such a new law would have ramifications for insurance companies, health clubs, and automobile associations which often give discounts to married couples while denying them two two unmarried customers.

Democratic Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico successfully spearheaded a measure into law which requires insurance companies to keep unmarried adult children on their parent's health plan at work until the child reaches 26 years of age.  Similar legislation is pending in New Jersey.

Employers are also making adjustments in the workplace to accommodate the new "unmarried majority."  There are now more than 8,000 employers offering domestic partner benefits.

"Family leave" is beginning to be replaced by "paid time off" where each employee gets the same number of leave days for personal matters regardless of whether they are married or have children.

Paid time-off policies have been growing in popularity each year since they were first introduced in the 1990s, according to CCH Inc., a human resources firm in Chicago that studies nationwide trends in the workplace. In a 2004 survey of employers, 63% of respondents indicated having paid leave bank programs, up from 27% in 1999.

Many employers who have adopted PTOs are noticing a change for the better.  So have some of their employees.

According to a physical therapist who works in Pittsburgh, she has used only three sick days in eight years. But by not needing those extra days, the therapist who is unmarried without children, says she lost two weeks of paid time off when she left her last job. With PTO she feels free to use the time as she wants.

Some cruise lines and travel companies are also reacting to the rise in unmarried households by eliminating the dreaded "singles supplement" which has been used by some travel businesses to impose surcharges on those who travel alone.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, single people accounted for $1.6 trillion in annual spending in 2002. With a slight change in marketing strategy auto groups like Chapman used cars Phoenix could see a rapid influx in sales by targeting single individuals in their advertisements. 

With politicians always looking for political contributions and businesses always seeking to increase profits, unmarried voters and single consumers may gain favor with lawmakers and corporate executives before the Census Bureau eventually declares that we have officially entered the era of the new "unmarried majority."

Numbers may count, but money talks.

Unmarried America 2005

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.