‘I Don’t’: Record Numbers Never Married

The share of American adults who have never been married is at an all-time high: In 2012, one in five adults 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married, according to an analysis of census data.

Adults marry later in life, and the number cohabiting and raising children outside of marriage has increased, says a new Pew Research Center analysis. The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960. About a quarter (24%) of never-married adults 25 to 34 live with a partner.

Shifting public attitudes, hard economic times and changing demographic patterns may contribute to the trend, which cuts across all major racial and ethnic groups. More than a third (36%) of African-Americans 25 and older had never been married, as of 2012. For whites and Hispanics, the share of never-married adults has roughly doubled in the past half-century.

Among the never-married, women say it is important for them to find someone with a steady job. Never-married men say they want someone who shares their ideas about raising children.

Never-married adults, both male and female, place a much lower priority on finding a partner who shares their moral and religious beliefs, has a similar educational history or comes from the same racial or ethnic background.

Among those never married but who say they may eventually want to wed, three in 10 cite not finding someone who has the traits and qualities they are looking for in a spouse as the main reason they are still single. Nearly as many (27%) say they are financially unprepared for marriage, and 22% say they are too young or not ready to settle down.

Among other findings:

  • Men are more likely than women to have never been married (23% vs. 17%);
  • Almost half (46%) of adults believe society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority. Half think society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children;
  • Most Americans (68%) continue to believe it is important for couples to marry if they plan to spend the rest of their lives together; and
  • About half (53%) of all never-married adults say they would like to marry eventually. Roughly one-third of never-married adults are unsure if they want to get married, and 13% do not want to marry.