Financial and Monetary Systems

What is the financial impact of being single in the U.S.?

single people, like this man here, are less likely to be financially more stable than people who have a partner

Single people in the U.S. tend to be better off economically than those with a partner. Image: UNSPLASH/StartupStockPhotos

Juliana Kaplan
Labor and inequality reporter, Business Insider
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  • A new Pew Research Center analysis found that 38% of adults ages 25 to 34 in the US weren't married or living with a partner.
  • These single adults are more likely to be worse off economically than people who have a partner.
  • This could be a sign that some Millennials are prioritizing education and career before marriage, which they can be later rewarded for.

If you're feeling single and broke, you're not alone. No, really.

A new analysis from the Pew Research Center found that, in 2019, about 38% of adults ages 25 to 34 in the US weren't married or living with a partner. That's a big spike from previous reports, and the data shows these singles tend to be worse off economically.

This is all due to shifting dynamics in who gets married and at what stage of life.

Living together boosts financial status; marriage helps even more

More millennial couples are cohabitating before marriage, and even buying houses together before tying the knot, as Insider's Hillary Hoffower reported. These adults who live with a partner, but haven't yet tied the knot, tend to be better than off their single peers.

Even so, Pew reports that "married adults fare better still." This is especially true for men.

One explanation is that high-earning men are generally more likely to get married. On top of that, research has found that men's earnings go up when they get married, what some call a "wage premium." Women might be experiencing something similar, although to a lesser extent.

And, partnered men are much more employed — 91% versus 73% of unpartnered men. In fact, single men are "faring worse" in employment, earnings, education, and financial vulnerability.

Bad news for adults who live alone

Pew found that unpartnered adults have different economic outcomes from their peers, and those outcomes are generally worse.

Among those making money, unpartnered men and women earned less than their coupled-up counterparts. Men without a partner had median earnings of $35,600 in 2019; meanwhile, partnered men made a median of $57,000.

Partnered women made, on median, $40,000, while unpartnered women had median earnings of $32,000. But that doesn't mean that they've fallen behind.

"For women the gaps have widened not because unpartnered women are faring worse now than 1990, but rather because partnered women have experienced significant improvements in their outcomes," Pew researchers wrote.

Partnered women are now more educated, working almost as much as single women, and, pivotally, "far fewer of them lack the resources to live independently."

Millennials are rethinking when they should get married

A lot more Americans are single today than 30 years ago. In 1990, just 29% of American adults were unpartnered.

People are also getting married later, on average. Insider's Andy Kiersz reported that, in 2019, just 51% of 30-year-olds had been married. In 1962, that figure was 90%, and it was still above 60% in 2000. As Hoffower reports, millennials may be staying in education longer and focusing on their careers before arriving to life events like homeownership and marriage. In fact, single women are slightly more employed today — 77% compared to 74% of partnered women.

Partnered adults of either gender are also more likely to be more educated. In 2019, just 26% of unpartnered "prime-working-age" men had finished at least a bachelor's degree. Meanwhile, 37% of their partnered male peers had hit that achievement. There was a similar gap among women: 43% of partnered women had finished their bachelor's degree, while just 33% of unpartnered women had.

All-in-all Pew says the increase in the number of single people isn't due to divorce or becoming widowed. It's all just people who haven't found their person. They write: "All of the growth in the unpartnered population since 1990 has come from a rise in the number who have never been married."

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