I've spent more than a decade of my life busting myths about single people - there are lots of them. Perhaps the most tenacious of all of the silly myths is that just about everyone wants to marry, and that marriage is what single people want, more than anything else.
I've tried to attack this myth with my favorite weapon - data. There's that Pew survey from 2005 (see p. 85), for example, in which single Americans of all ages were asked whether they were in a committed relationship and whether they were looking for a partner. The biggest group of single people - 55 % -- said that they were NOT in a committed relationship and that they were NOT looking. It is hard to twist that into suggesting that all singles want to get married, and they want that more than anything else (though in informal conversations and emails, some people have tried).
If you've browsed any newspapers or websites today, you've probably seen some variation of the heading, "4 in 10 say marriage is becoming obsolete." That was one of the results from a Pew and Time magazine national survey that was just released today. That is pretty interesting, but I was even more drawn to single participants' answer to the question, "Do you want to get married?" On the average, only 46% said yes. One-quarter of the singles (divorced, widowed, cohabiting, or always-single) said they do not want to marry, and 29% said they were not sure. For the divorced and widowed, the number who said they wanted to marry sunk to 22% (with 46% saying they do not want to marry and 32% unsure).
The nationwide sample of 2,691 Americans 18 and older, telephoned just last month, were also asked whether each of a series of possible goals would be easier to accomplish if married or if single. Participants could answer (1) easier if married, (2) easier if single, or (3) it wouldn't make any difference. So if they were just answering at random, each option would be chosen 33% of the time.
For all of the following goals, one of the three options was selected by at least 49% of the participants, and up to as many as 64%:
- Find happiness
- Have social status
- Be financially secure
- Have a fulfilling sex life
- Get ahead in career
Do you know what that option was that so many people chose? They chose door #3: It doesn't make any difference if you are single or married.
There was one big exception. Asked about raising a family, 77% said it would be easier if you were married.
There was another trend that was met with a nationwide shrug. Participants were asked what they thought of the growing number of women who never have children. Is that a good thing or a bad thing for society? Their answer was neither. Fifty-five percent said it made no difference that the proportion of women not having children was growing.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I did not get my information about this report from the same AP story that just about everyone else is quoting or reprinting. I just finished reading the entire original report of more than 100 pages, plus the Time feature story due out next week (but already online). There is so much more to discuss, from which swath of the American population is most open-minded, which group is still getting bashed amidst the growing tolerance for different family forms, and what the researchers did not seem to understand about friendship and what counts as family. I'll also take a big-picture view, and comment on what is missing from this latest picture of marriage and family in America. I don't know how many more posts that will entail or when I will finish them, but I'm on it.
[Thanks to Natalya for the heads-up about this story.]
[You can get this or a long-sleeve version of the "Single with Attitude" t-shirt here. (I don't get a cut.) You can get the paperback book by the same name here or the Kindle version here. (I do get a cut.)]