Why Are There So Many American Singles?

Why Are There So Many American Singles? by Kate Zernike appears in the New York Times Week in Review Section, and provides some insight to the stats published recently that 51% of American women are unmarried. It turns out that the marriage gap is not between women and men, but is about class and education.

The news that 51 percent of all women live without a spouse might be enough to make you invest in cat futures.

But consider, too, the flip side: about half of all men find themselves in the same situation. As the number of people marrying has dropped off in the last 45 years, the marriage rate has declined equally for men and for women.

The stereotype has been cemented in the popular culture: the hard-charging career girl who gets her comeuppance, either violently or dying a slow death by late-night memo and Chinese takeout. Think Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl,” two enduring icons. In last year’s model, Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” ends up single, if still singularly successful.

But when it comes to marriage, the two Americas aren’t divided by gender. And it’s not the career girls on the losing end. It’s their less educated manicurists or housekeepers, women who might arguably be less able to live on their own.

The emerging gulf is instead one of class — what demographers, sociologists and those who study the often depressing statistics about the wedded state call a “marriage gap” between the well-off and the less so.

Statistics show that college educated women are more likely to marry than non-college educated women — although they marry, on average, two years later. The popular image might have been true even 20 years ago — though generally speaking, most women probably didn’t boil the bunny rabbit the way Ms. Close’s character did in 1987. In the past, less educated women often “married up.” In “Working Girl,” Melanie Griffith triumphs. Now, marriage has become more one of equals; when more highly educated men marry, it tends to be more highly educated women. Today, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver would live happily ever after.

Women with more education also are becoming less likely to divorce, or inclined to divorce, than those with less education. They are even less likely to be widowed all in all, less likely to end up alone.

“Educated women used to have a difficult time,” said David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. “Now they’re the most desired.” In Princeton, where he lives, men used to marry “way down the line,” Mr. Popenoe said. No more.

The difference extends across race lines: black women are significantly less likely to marry than white women, but among blacks, women with a college education are more likely to marry than those who do not.


Glad I didn't invest in cat futures when I read the initial report last week.