first time ever, married couples have lost their status as
the dominant household type in the United States. New
Census data shows that households headed by unmarried
Americans have become the new majority.
the American Community Survey, which questioned occupants of
3 million American households in 2005, revealed that
unmarried adults headed up 50.3 percent of the nation’s
housing units last year while married couples occupied 49.7
results of the survey were released on August 15, the media
focused their stories on patterns of racial and ethnic
diversity evident in the new data. No mention was made of
the new unmarried majority.
households include a variety of living arrangements, such as
people who live alone, single parent households, unmarried
partners, roommates, and adult blood relatives sharing
Married-couple households have been losing statistical
ground for decades. They occupied 78 percent of the
nation’s households in 1950, 60 percent in 1980, and 52.8
percent in 2000.
transformation of unmarried households from a minority to a
majority started in New York when, in 1990, it became the
first state to undergo such a change. By 2004, there were
17 unmarried majority states. There was a sharp increase to
23 such states in 2005.
In a cover
story published in October 2003, aptly entitled “Unmarried
America,” BusinessWeek Magazine predicted the emergence of
an unmarried majority and examined the implications for
American society. The story suggested that workplace
policies, business practices, and government programs would
need reevaluation since so much has been premised on a
BusinessWeek story contained a sidebar entitled “The
Unmarried Penalty.” It summarized areas in which unmarried
Americans experience disadvantages, including: fewer job
benefits, higher unemployment, lower pay, higher taxes,
lower social security and unemployment benefits, fewer
estate tax breaks, and higher auto insurance rates.
Americans are currently engaged in litigation to challenge
restrictive zoning laws limiting their right to live
together in residential areas in some cities. Court cases
are also pending to invalidate criminal laws against
news is that favorable changes for single people are
beginning to occur in some states.
health care programs in New York, Massachusetts, and Maine
are moving more unmarried Americans from the status of
uninsured to insured. New laws in New Mexico and Colorado
require employers to keep unmarried adult children on a
parent’s health plan to the age of 26 and in New Jersey to
the age of 30. Although workers must pay a premium for
this coverage, it will give more unmarried adults access to
vital health care services.
rights laws at the state and local levels of government are
being expanded to protect more unmarried people from
discrimination. Several cities have passed laws requiring
some businesses to provide the same employment benefits to
domestic partners that they give to married couples. Last
year, California added the term “marital status” to its
Unruh Civil Rights Act, a law that prohibits discriminatory
business practices against consumers.
Courts in Virginia and Georgia have issued opinions
recognizing the right of sexual privacy of unmarried
these modest gains, most unmarried workers and many
unmarried consumers are faced with unfair business
practices. But they lack legal protection to fight “marital
status” discrimination in half of the states.
though funds collected from unmarried taxpayers are used to
support the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the
U.S. Civil Rights Commission, none of these agencies has
jurisdiction to investigate or remedy “marital status”
strange that the civil rights of a majority of American
households are not protected under federal law. It is even
stranger that the media has not uttered or written one word
about the emergence of a new unmarried majority.
Politicians are affected by public opinion, public opinion
is shaped in large measure by the media, and the media
usually feeds on controversial or newsworthy events. Well,
the release of Census data putting a new unmarried majority
in center stage of American demographics is certainly
newsworthy, and in many places will be controversial.
So let the
newspaper reporters start writing stories. Let the talk radio
show hosts start squawking.
the silence about Unmarried America?