Marriage has been declining steadily in the USA for more than 35 years.
Many singles appear to be enjoying their unencumbered and unmarried state that two-thirds aren’t even sure they want to marry, suggests a broad national survey of the dating habits, sexual behaviors and lifestyles of 5,541 single adults across the U.S.
Almost 40% of singles 21 and older surveyed were uncertain about wanting to marry; overall, 34.5% say they do want to marry, but 27% don’t.
This second annual Singles in America study, conducted online and completed in December by market research firm MarketTools for the Dallas-based dating website Match.com, was developed by the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at Binghamton University, along with biological anthropologist Helen Fisher and sex therapist Laura Berman.
Attitudes about relationships also show decidely mixed views: 21.3% report they don’t have time or prefer to stay unattached. Only 12.7% are actively seeking a relationship. Just under half (46.8%) are not actively looking for a relationship but say that if they met the right person they would consider it, and 16.9% are dating someone. Another 2.2% like to play the field.
The nationally representative sample of single adults not in a committed relationship is largely heterosexual (90.5%) and includes 56.5% who have never married, 30.9% divorced, 10.2% widowed and 2.4% separated.
The mixed feelings on the desire to marry don’t surprise sociologist Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., who did not participate in the survey. He says marriage has been declining steadily in the USA for more than 35 years.
“It is true that researchers used to find that people who hadn’t gotten married still had aspirations to get married, but I think that may be eroding now,” he says. “A new generation has grown up in a world where marriage is not a certainty. If they’re 20 years into adult relationships and haven’t found somebody they want to marry, maybe they’ve changed their minds about how necessary marriage is.”
Bella DePaulo, a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, who studies singles and wasn’t involved in the survey, says the findings support her belief that staying single is an option many embrace.
“It smashes probably the most pervasive myth about single people is that what they want most is to escape being single,” she says. “These numbers are in the context of a society that still greatly glorifies marriage.”
But marriage does still hold some allure. Margaret Somers, who says she’s an “over 50” feminist and workaholic who has never been married, has been in a relationship for the past eight months and is warming up to what marriage represents. “It would nice to just have the experience of that level of commitment,” says Somers, a professor of sociology and history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “If you’re of a certain age, it doesn’t hold out those threatening senses of being controlled and contained. It feels like a nice, ceremonial thing that means you’re going to grow old with somebody.”
The results do shatter some long-held beliefs about what have been considered “deal breakers” in relationships. Only until the very recent past, a potential partner’s religion, race or ethnicity, or financial status (especially for a man) often stood in the way of a romance blossoming, says anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. But no more. Singles today, she says, look at “those profoundly basic things a person needs for a sound partnership.”
The survey found that the top five deal breakers in order of importance are having a disheveled or unclean appearance (67%); being lazy (66%); being too needy (63%); lacking a sense of humor (54%); and distance — living more than three hours apart (49%).
Just 13% of women and 7% of men say they “must have” a partner of the same religion; 13% of women and 8% of men say the partner must be of the same ethnic background. And 36% of women and just 13% of men “must have” someone who makes as much money as they do. Unemployment status matters less to single whites than it does to other groups: 44% of whites say it wouldn’t matter if they’re interested in the person. The percentage of Latinos and Asians saying it wouldn’t matter was 34%, and for blacks it was 31%. Among singles ages 21-39, a partner who wants children is a “must have” for 41% of women and 36% of men.
Jeremy Klein, 26, of Fort Lauderdale says he’s not seeking a relationship but may try online dating. “I am thinking about it now that I’m out of school and working a lot more,” he says, because he doesn’t have the “time and energy” to meet new people.
Klein, an accountant who graduated from college in June, is among those uncertain about marriage. Among singles 21-39, 56% of men and 62% of women want to marry.
“I think if I was definitely sure,” Klein says, “I would have met someone and gotten married.”
Via USA Today