Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

September 4,  2006  



Labor Day portrait of the unmarried workforce

By Thomas F. Coleman


Labor Day was declared a national holiday for the purpose of honoring American workers and their contributions to society.  Since nearly 44 percent of the nation's workforce is unmarried, I thought it would be appropriate to devote today's column to them, especially since so little has been written about the unmarried American worker.

Who are these unmarried workers and how do they compare with their married coworkers when it comes to unemployment rates, wages, promotions, shift schedules, flexible hours, multiple jobs, work at home, and leave benefits?  What does the most recent information from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics tell us about the unmarried workforce?

Unmarried employees are more likely to be unemployed, make lower wages, get fewer promotions, and work less desirable shifts.  They aren't given as much flexibility, are more likely to work multiple jobs, and they take less advantage of leave benefits.  No wonder single people often complain about a lack of fairness in the workplace.

Unmarried people are much more likely to be unemployed than those who are married.  Only 2.8 percent of married men were unemployed last year, compared with 9.5 percent of never-married men and 5.6 percent of men who were previously married (widowed, divorced, or separated).  The same holds true for women, with 3.3 percent of married women unemployed, compared with 8.3 percent of never-married women and 5.4 percent of previously-married women. 

Generally speaking, unmarried workers have lower wages than married workers  If benefits were included in the picture, the disparity in compensation would be even greater.

The median weekly earnings in 2004 for salaried full-time married workers were $719, compared with $510 for never-married workers and $606 for those previously married. For those paid by the hour, the median pay for married workers was $12.81 per hour, compared with $8.98 for never-married workers and $11.49 for those previously married.

Unmarried employees are much more likely to be minimum wage workers, even when employees under the age of 24 are excluded from the analysis.  For those 24 and older, the never-married were more than twice as likely to be working a minimum-wage job than married workers.  Workers who were previously married were 63 percent more likely than married workers to be earning a minimum wage or less.

Data on promotions showed married men with a promotion rate of 26.4 percent, compared with 23.1 for never-married men and 24.3 percent for those previously married.  Never-married women fared better than everyone on this score, with a 27.4 percent promotion rate, compared with 25 percent for married women, and 27.2 percent for those previously married.

Some 28.8 percent of married workers had flexible schedules, compared with 25.4 percent of never married workers, and 26.8 percent for those previously married.  More than 82 percent of married men worked a regular day shift, compared with about 77 percent for unmarried men.  The disparity between married and unmarried women was even greater. 

Previously-married employees were 13 percent more likely, and never-married people were 6 percent more likely, to work multiple jobs than employees who were currently married.

Employees who were married or lived with a partner were more than twice as likely to have taken advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act than workers who have never married.  Probably because of the presence of children in the home, previously-married workers had the highest leave rate of all marital statuses.

When unmarried workers do take an extended leave, they are much more likely to do so without compensation.  More than 62 percent of never-married workers did not get paid when they took an extended leave, while only 30.9 percent of married or partnered leave-takers did not get paid.  Some 26.5 percent of previously-married leave-takers did not get paid.

And guess whose more likely to get the privilege of working at home? 

More than 18 percent of married people worked out of their house, compared with 8.8 percent of those who have never married and 12.9 percent of those previously married.

So as we salute the American worker on this Labor Day 2006, let's not forget about the unmarried portion of the workforce who work just as hard, sometimes harder and longer, but who get paid less and receive fewer perks and benefits. 

Perhaps the unmarried workforce should get organized.  If unmarried American workers would unite and form their own labor union, the initials U.A.W. would take on a whole new meaning.

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.