Recently, the number of unmarried in the United States surpassed the number of married women for the first time. What is behind the trend and what does it mean? This change reflects two converging tends in American society. Not only are women living longer than men, creating more widows, women are getting married at a later age.
In the media coverage discussing this particular phenomenon, news anchors questioned whether or not it was a commentary on men in today’s society. Personally, I don’t believe that it is. It appears simply to be a reflection of trends that have been in place for quite some time. It is only now that it is showing up in the statistics.
For all of the hype, there are only a few things can be said for this trend. More women and men are living larger parts of their adult lives alone. Where as people used to spend most of their adult lives married, factors such as the live span gap between men and women, college education, and the trend of getting married later in life are making it more unlikely.
For all of the attention paid to this statistic, I don’t believe that it is commentary on men or that it reflects a fundamental shift in values. People are simply taking their time in getting married. No one wants to make a mistake and end up getting divorced. As a generation who saw over half of our parents’ marriages end in divorce, we are being much more cautious. By getting our education first and waiting to get married, we hope to advert the same issues.
That having been said, it will be interesting to see what effect this trend will have on divorce rates in the future, and our society as a whole. If people don’t get married at all, there will be a fundamental shift in how we view families and relationships between men and women. However, if people continue to simply get married later in life, we may see another echo Baby Boom as these newly married 30 and 40-somethings start families. Either way, the way we viewed the traditional American family even 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily apply. That is probably the biggest thing to take from this news item: the dynamic of the American family is changing.
As a result of that change, our institutions will begin to see the effects of those changes. We will probably see more single women in political life and in the work force in general. Our nursing homes and hospitals will become even more occupied by women. Day care services will become even more in demand and American men will have to take on new roles in society. Women, who are more independent than ever, will be even less willing to contend with a man who is simply a breadwinner. This shift is not a wake-up call or a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with our society, it simply signals a change in the family dynamic in America.