Once again, popular music follows contemporary culture. Beyonce’s pop hit “Single Ladies” looks at today’s cohabitation scene. With nearly 50 percent of young adults aged 20 to 40 cohabiting, living together has become a far-too-typical experience marking a young woman’s coming of age. Beyonce’s lyrics treat the reality of cohabitation with typical sass: “Cuz I cried my tears, gave three good years.” Actually, the typical cohabiting relationship lasts just 18 months, and usually it is the guy rather than the girl who determines when it ends and whether it will lead to marriage.
Perhaps Beyonce’s hit song gives a small glimmer of hope that, in addition to reflecting a new consciousness in the popular culture, she will magnify the influence on the culture of this budding new realism - the age-old idea that men should “put a ring on it.” She wistfully declares that though “we just broke up … your love is what I prefer.” Nevertheless, the song stresses that the singer “deserves” much more: a lasting, permanent love, one that “delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond.”
In addition to her popularity and talent, Beyonce was almost guaranteed a hit because the number of “single ladies” sharing a living space with “benefits” has increased dramatically - up 1,000 percent in the U.S. since 1970 and more than tripled in the United Kingdom between 1976 and 2004 (from 9 percent to 28 percent). While increasingly common among college students and young professionals, living together without marriage is even more common among the uneducated and poor. In addition, by age 20, nearly three out of four young women have experienced premarital sex (74 percent).
Marriage rates around the world have dropped precipitously. Since 1972, the U.S. marriage rate (among all females 15 to 44) has decreased by nearly one-third, while the rate in the United Kingdom has decreased by more than half. In France, there has been a 43 percent decrease, and in Germany, a 38 percent decrease (added to an 18 percent decrease from 1960-1970). These data mean that the British rate of young unmarried women has jumped to almost three out of five for women of childbearing age, while the American rate has gone from two out of five to not quite one half. According to Neil Clark Warren, chairman and co-founder of eHarmony online dating service, nearly half of today’s young adults cannot recommend even one single healthy, exemplary marriage.
Clearly, when the prevailing attitude is that having sex is “no big deal” and entails no commitment, then moving in and living together with no strings attached becomes that much more likely. However, let’s look at the facts. The research is clear: Cohabiting couples report less satisfaction in their relationships than married couples; they are more likely to divorce than are married couples who didn’t live together before marriage; abuse of women and children in cohabiting relationships is more likely from the mother’s boyfriend than from her husband or her children’s father.
Beyond the “hard” facts of cohabiting women, we have a rising phenomenon of “social disconnectedness” with one-person households doubling in the U.S. (from 8 percent to 17 percent) and 80 percent growth in the United Kingdom between 1971 and 2005, from 17 percent to 31 percent of all households. Among working-age adults in the U.K., the number of one-person households tripled from just 5 percent in 1971 to 16 percent of all households in 2002. And, among older adults (60 years and older) living alone, the number rose from 12 percent in 1971 to 15 percent in 2002.
As promiscuous sex has become “normalized” - thanks in part to Hollywood’s incessant push to expand the borders of the sexual revolution - the percentage of children born outside of marriage from 1970 to 2006 has mushroomed. In the U.S., the percentage rose from 11 percent to 40 percent - 3.7 times greater. In the U.K., the percentage climbed from 8 percent to 44 percent - 4.5 times greater. Sweden (three times greater), France (7.5 times greater) and Germany (more than 4.3 times greater) saw similar percentage increases in the share of extramarital births.
The big question is: Why have our values changed? Why are young people falling for these contemporary trends? One answer is that the popular culture inundates them with myths and literally pushes them to “find themselves” through risky, promiscuous sexual experimentation.
Nobody tells them about the consequences; indeed, the opposite is true. Young people are fed myths and are encouraged in their rebellion against moral boundaries by the aging veterans of the sexual revolution. Several years ago, Anna Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times columnist, told one group of graduates at their college graduating ceremonies, “Begin with that most terrifying of all things, a clean slate. Then look, every day, at the choices you are making, and when you ask yourself why you are making them, find this answer: For me. For me.”
Finally, we are hearing in at least one pop-music video the realities of living together without marriage. In addition, we have a movement (however slight) toward marriage with one of the top pop-culture queens of today taunting men to “put a ring on it.”
Janice Shaw Crouse, author of “Children at Risk” (Transaction, 2009), is executive director of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.