Not only has the number of single adults in the U.S. ballooned since 1990, so has the gulf in economic fortunes between individuals who live with a spouse or partner and those living alone.
The biggest money gains have come from partnered women, a recent study by the Pew Research Center found, while single men fared the worst financially.
“Underlying some of these shifts is that women today have more choice than they ever have in the past,” Misty Heggeness, U.S. Census Bureau principal economist, told Yahoo Money. “They can make choices from an economically independent framework.”
The percentage of unpartnered Americans between 25 and 54 increased to 38% in 2019 from 29% in 1990. Single men saw their earnings drop 4% during this period, while the median wage for women living alone ticked down 0.9%.
The earning outcomes were rosier for individuals living with a partner or spouse, with wages for partnered men growing by 7% and wages for partnered women jumping by 48% since 1990.
“Women are becoming more economically independent and they're making more choices in terms of partnering with people who have similar levels of education,” Heggeness said. “In addition, they're not stepping back from work.”
‘More educated today than they ever have been in the past
Women with partners also saw significant gains in higher education over the last almost three decades, compared with partnered men.
Women are “more educated today than they ever have been in the past,” which is tied to better wages and has influenced some of the gains for partnered women, according to Heggeness. Partnered women saw a 21 percentage point gain when it comes to completing at least a bachelor’s degree since 1990 while partnered men saw a 10 percentage point increase.
Additionally, in the past, highly educated women were more likely to stay out of the workforce at their full capacity or completely.
“More women are able to find fulfilling jobs that allow them to stay attached to the labor market,” Heggeness said. “Historically when women would get married, they would retract from the labor market and they're really not doing that anymore.”
‘That requires… those who have gained to lose’
Overall single adults have lower educational attainment, are more likely to be living with their parents, and less likely to be employed, but those factors are more pronounced with men, according to the study.
In 2019, 73% of unpartnered men were employed, versus 91% of partnered men, 77% of single women, and 74% of partnered women. Single men are the least likely to have attained a bachelor's degree among the four groups, and 31% live with at least one parent — compared with 24% for single women and 2% for both partnered men and women.
“There's this balancing act going on in society,” Heggeness said. "Sometimes we move towards a more equal equilibrium and that requires not only those who are losing to gain, but also those who have gained to lose.”