Wednesday, January 17, 2007
51% of Women now living without Spouse
51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse
By SAM ROBERTS
For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women
are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York
Times analysis of census results.
In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse,
up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.
Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority
of all American households for the first time, the trend could
ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways
government and employers distribute benefits.
Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the
age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried
partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women
are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than
men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound
In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about
30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the
Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55
percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian
In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is
temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the
military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually
marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.
"This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going
back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main
institution that organizes people's lives," said Prof. Stephanie
Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary
Families, a nonprofit research group. "Most of these women will marry,
or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult
lives outside marriage."
Professor Coontz said this was probably unprecedented with the
possible exception of major wartime mobilizations and when black
couples were separated during slavery.
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a
research group in Washington, described the shift as "a clear tipping
point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with
greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women."
"For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the
institution of marriage," Dr. Frey said. "Younger women understand
this better, and are preparing to live longer parts of their lives
alone or with nonmarried partners. For many older boomer and senior
women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might
have hoped for, growing up in an 'Ozzie and Harriet' era."
Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East
Village of Manhattan, said she was not surprised by the trend.
"A lot of my friends are divorced or single or living alone," Ms.
Zuzik said. "I know a lot of people in their 30s who have roommates."
Ms. Zuzik has lived with a boyfriend twice, once in California where
the couple registered as domestic partners to qualify for his health
insurance plan. "I don't plan to live with anyone else again until I
am married," she said, "and I may opt to keep a place of my own even
Linda Barth, a 56-year-old magazine editor in Houston who has never
married, said, "I used to divide my women friends into single friends
and married friends. Now that doesn't seem to be an issue."
Sheila Jamison, who also lives in the East Village and works for a
media company, is 45 and single. She says her family believes she
would have had a better chance of finding a husband had she attended a
historically black college instead of Duke.
"Considering all the weddings I attended in the '80s that have ended
so very, very badly, I consider myself straight up lucky," Ms. Jamison
said. "I have not sworn off marriage, but if I do wed, it will be to
have a companion with whom I can travel and play parlor games in my
Carol Crenshaw, 57, of Roswell, Ga., was divorced in 2005 after 33
years and says she is in no hurry to marry again.
"I'm in a place in my life where I'm comfortable," said Ms. Crenshaw,
who has two grown sons. "I can do what I want, when I want, with whom
I want. I was a wife and a mother. I don't feel like I need to do that
Similarly, Shelley Fidler, 59, a public policy adviser at a law firm,
has sworn off marriage. She moved from rural Virginia to the vibrant
Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when her 30-year
"The benefits were completely unforeseen for me," Ms. Fidler said,
"the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the
time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in
terms of work, travel and cultural events."
Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to
the marital status category in the Census Bureau's latest American
Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are
legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living
at home for one reason or another.
That brings the number of American women actually living with a spouse
to 57.5 million, compared with the 59.9 million who are single or
whose husbands were not living at home when the survey was taken in
Some of those situations, which the census identifies as "spouse
absent" and "other," are temporary, and, of course, even some people
who describe themselves as separated eventually reunite with their
Over all, a larger share of men are married and living with their
spouse — about 53 percent compared with 49 percent among women.
"Since women continue to outlive men, they have reached the nonmarital
tipping point — more nonmarried than married," Dr. Frey said. "This
suggests that most girls growing up today can look forward to spending
more of their lives outside of a traditional marriage."
Pamela J. Smock, a researcher at the University of Michigan Population
Studies Center, agreed, saying that "changing patterns of courtship,
marriage, and that we are living longer lives all play a role."
"Men also remarry more quickly than women after a divorce," Ms. Smock
added, "and both are increasingly likely to cohabit rather than
remarry after a divorce."
The proportion of married people, especially among younger age groups,
has been declining for decades. Between 1950 and 2000, the share of
women 15-to-24 who were married plummeted to 16 percent, from 42
percent. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion dropped to 58
percent, from 82 percent.
"Although we can help people 'do' marriage better, it is simply
delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions
on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult
lives in marriage," said Professor Coontz, the author of "Marriage, a
History: How Love Conquered Marriage."
Besse Gardner, 24, said she and her boyfriend met as college freshmen
and started living together last April "for all the wrong reasons" —
they found a great apartment on the beach in Los Angeles.
"We do not see living together as an end or even for the rest of our
lives — it's just fun right now," Ms. Gardner said. "My roommate is
someone I'd be thrilled to marry one day, but it just doesn't make
sense right now."
Ms. Crenshaw said that some of the women in her support group for
divorced women were miserable, but that she was surprised how happy
she was to be single again.
"That's not how I grew up," she said. "That's not how society thinks.
It's a marriage culture."
Elissa B. Terris, 59, of Marietta, Ga., divorced in 2005 after being
married for 34 years and raising a daughter, who is now an adult.
"A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no," she recalled. "I
told him, 'I'm just beginning to fly again, I'm just beginning to be
me. Don't take that away.' "
"Marriage kind of aged me because there weren't options," Ms. Terris
said. "There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I
slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side."
She said she was returning to college to get a master's degree (her
former husband "didn't want me to do that because I was more educated
than he was"), had taken photography classes and was auditioning for a
"Once you go through something you think will kill you and it
doesn't," she said, "every day is like a present."
Ariel Sabar, Brenda Goodman and Maureen Balleza contributed reporting.