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Record Number of Americans Have Never Married and Never Will

Singles Week in the U.S. ushers in record number of lifelong single people.

Key points

  • One out of four of today's 50-year-olds will have been single their whole lives.
  • Around the world, rates of marriage are declining and the percentages of people who get close to 50 without ever having married are increasing.
  • Half of all solo single people don’t want a romantic relationship or even a date.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center made a data-based prediction about adults in the U.S. that still, to this day, strikes me as remarkable:

“…when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (25%) is likely to have never been married.”

In 1956, just about everyone got married. Half of the men were younger than 22.5 when they married, and half of the women were younger than 20.1. Now we are looking at a cohort of 50-year-olds in which one out of four will have been single their whole life.

There Are Now 130.6 Million Unmarried Americans and 85.4 Million Have Never Been Married

The most recent statistics are consistent with the 2014 prediction. Every year, Unmarried and Single Americans Week is celebrated during the third full week of September (so, September 20 through September 26 in 2020). To mark the occasion, the Census Bureau releases charts and links to the latest survey results. Their reports are less extensive than they used to be, so I needed to dig into the data myself.

The number of adults in the U.S., 18 and older, who have never been married, is continuing to increase:

  • 2018: 84.6 million
  • 2019: 85.4 million

Of all adults who are unmarried (including the divorced, separated, and widowed), the largest group by far is comprised of those who have been single all their life:

  • 2018: 61.0%
  • 2019: 61.7%

The number of lifelong single people has also grown as a percentage of the total population of people 18 and older (married and unmarried):

  • 2018: 28.8%
  • 2019: 29.0%

The total share of adults, 18 and older, who are unmarried has not increased between 2018 and 2019, because rates have declined for the divorced, separated, and widowed. The total number of unmarried American adults has decreased from 130.650 million to 130.625 million. As a percent of all adults, the share has decreased from 47.3% to 47.0%.

I’m focusing on demographic changes in the U.S. in this post. Other data from the United Nations indicate that the trends are global. Around the world, rates of marriage are declining and the percentages of people who get close to 50 without ever having married are increasing.

What Are the Chances You Will Marry If You Have Never Been Married?

In one of the most notorious stories ever published about single women, Newsweek claimed in 1986 that 40-year-old women who had never married were “more likely to get killed by a terrorist” than to ever get married. Two decades later, they recanted.

Reliable statistics are available on that question, from the American Community Survey. The Pew Research Center summarized the 2012 data in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the likelihood that you will marry depends on your age.

Number of adults (women and men) in the U.S. who got married over a 12-month period

  • Ages 25 – 34: 71 out of 1,000
  • Ages 35 – 44: 40 out of 1,000
  • Ages 45 – 54: 16 out of 1,000
  • Ages 55 and older: 7 out of 1,000

If you are someone who wants to marry, you probably think about this in terms of the availability of potential marriage partners. With more people already married, there are fewer available for you to marry.

In the U.S. in 2019, among adults between the ages of 25 and 29, fewer than 1 in 3 were married. That jumps to just over half for adults between 30 and 34, then to just over 60% for people between 35 and 39. The marriage rate peaks at nearly two-thirds after that. The next big change comes between 75 and 84, when the rate drops back down to just over half. By 85 and older, the rate is down to what it was for adults between 25 and 29, fewer than 1 in 3.

Percent of adults in the U.S. who are married, by age group (2019 data):

  • Ages 18-19: 1.7
  • Ages 20-24: 10.3
  • Ages 25-29: 31.5
  • Ages 30-34: 53.0
  • Ages 35-39: 62.5
  • Ages 40-44: 66.1
  • Ages 45-49: 65.6
  • Ages 50-54: 65.8
  • Ages 55-64: 65.9
  • Ages 65-74: 64.9
  • Ages 75-84: 55.9
  • Ages 85 and older: 31.6

The Chances You Will Marry If You Don’t Want to Marry Are About Zero

You can read about possible reasons for not marrying among those who do want to marry just about anywhere. I like to pay attention to the single people who are typically ignored—those who love being single—the single at heart, and those who are not so sure at first but who come to like the single life.

When young adults cross the threshold of 30, and suddenly the number of people who are married goes from fewer than 1 in 3 to more than half, it can be difficult to realize that marriage isn’t for everyone. Many look to marry as a matter of course; they don’t even consider the possibility that single life may be a fulfilling life, and for them, maybe even a better life.

With age, many people think more deeply about what they really want from life. They are more resistant to other people’s expectations about what they should want. People who might be inclined toward single life all along, if only there were more cultural supports for such a life, start to realize that single life really is the life for them. Others who are more ambivalent may have already built a fulfilling single life for themselves. Maybe they are still open to marriage, but their standards are higher. They are not going to marry just to play their assigned role in a cultural script.

That’s a good thing.

How many solo single people are not interested in marrying? Recently, I summarized an August 2020 Pew report (describing data from 2019) with this dramatic heading: "Half of all solo single people don’t want a romantic relationship or even a date."

Singles Week this year is ushering in a record number of lifelong single people. That record, though, is likely to be broken.

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