It’s an oddity that even as the U.S. population grows, more Americans choose to live alone. The simple truth that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” notwithstanding, too many conclude that close relationships are too hard. While living alone may mean less snoring to endure and fewer dirty socks to pick up, it can also lead to a dimmer financial future and a relentless struggle against loneliness that shouldn’t be wished upon anyone.
A Pew Research Center survey published last week found the share of unpartnered U.S. adults aged 25 to 54, including those neither married nor cohabiting, rose from 29 percent in 1990 to 38 percent by 2019. Unmarried cohabitation climbed from 4 percent to 9 percent during the same period. Most disturbingly, the proportion of married persons fell sharply from 67 percent to a bare majority of 53 percent.
Unpartnered adults surveyed admitted to managing more poorly than their partnered peers on a number of critical life-course outcomes. The proportion of singles with at least a bachelor’s degree trailed partnered persons 29-41 percent. Singles also lagged behind those in relationships on employment 82-75 percent and straggled on median earnings $49,000-35,000. The unpartnered crushed it, though, on one telling metric: 28 percent live with their parents, compared to just 3 percent of their peers with partners. That’s nothing to write home about.
The survey adds a new dimension to an earlier, 2018 Pew-sponsored study of self-reported health assessments of Americans aged 40 to 49 living as married couples compared to individuals living alone. Those who claimed that marriage provides benefits to health at mid-life measured 89 percent; those making the same claim about living alone totaled only 35 percent.
Moreover, marriage comprises an integral step on the journey toward a stable and prosperous future. The pathway is commonly referred to as the “success sequence”: Finish high school, get a full-time job, get married, and only then have children.
Though not a panacea, marriage and subsequent family-building enroll individuals in the school of love, which teaches challenging lessons about patience and selfless giving. The effort is rewarded many times over, though, with the loving embrace of spouse and children. The same reward awaits those who choose unmarried partnership — so long as they stay true to their commitment.
A solitary existence is also a choice, but it is not one that tops many wish lists. A ditty from a 1960s-era rendition of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” sung by the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, captures the heartbreak of loneliness that no one should welcome: “Where is a voice to answer mine back? Where are two shoes that click to my clack? I’m all alone in the world.”
Despite the natural yearning for companionship, Americans who choose the unnatural path of going it alone should, respectfully, reconsider.