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Researchers: Rise in Single People Who Earn Less

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Researchers: Rise in Single People Who Earn Less

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ORLANDO, Florida (AP) – Jessica Kaschube has relied on the economic advantages of being married to pursue her career.

During almost a dozen years of marriage, the extra income from her husband’s more stable jobs—and his health insurance—has enabled Mrs. Kaschube to move from Montana to Alabama to Florida, advancing her career as a theater administrator in an arts profession known for low pay and instability.

“Each move allowed me to make another jump in my career path. He always had a stable income,” said Mrs. Kaschube, 35, who lives in metro Orlando. “Because I had health insurance and a spouse that had an income, we could always pay our bills. We weren’t rolling in money, but that was a privilege.”

A new study from Pew Research Center released Tuesday underscores the economic advantages of being married, especially as the share of single people in the U.S. has grown over the past three decades. The flip side, of course, is that it is harder to be single, researchers say, since the unpartnered population earns less and has less education. Unpartnered men, in particular, are less likely to be employed.

The share of the U.S. population not living with a romantic partner during prime working years has grown from 29 percent to 38 percent from 1990 to 2019. Around 28 percent of single people between the ages of 25 to 54 are living with their parents, compared to 2 percent for married or partnered couples. Additionally, the growth of the unpartnered population over almost 30 years has been sharper in men than women, according to the Pew study, which used decennial census and American Community Survey data.

Policymakers should take notice since the unpartnered population is generally economically disadvantaged and less healthy compared to married people or those living with a romantic partner, said Richard Fry, a senior economist at Pew.

“When we look at their health outcomes, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as binge drinking. Single adults don’t live as long,” Mr. Fry said. “Single adults are an at-risk population.”

Bella DePaulo, a research psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, cautioned that this Pew report could further stigmatize the unpartnered population “if it is used as a way of telling a misleading story about those poor single people and what is supposedly wrong with them.”

“Yes, single people are paid less, have fewer resources available to them when they need help, and are disadvantaged in other ways, too. But some of that—maybe a lot of it—is based on discrimination against single people, not on anything that is supposedly wrong with them,” Ms. DePaulo said in an email.

The rise in single people has been driven by a three-decade decline in marriage. The share of adults ages 25 to 54 who are married dropped from two-thirds in 1990 to just over half in 2019, and the share of people who have never married grew from 17 percent to 33 percent. While the unpartnered population includes people who are separated, divorced or widowed, all the growth comes from people who have never been married, the Pew report said.

The growth in the unpartnered population has been sharper in men than women. It was around 29 percent for both sexes in 1990, but it jumped to 39 percent for men and 36 percent for women by 2019.

Single women earned more in 1990, but their advantage was reversed by 2019 as partnered women became more likely to remain in the workforce.

Single men, meanwhile, have fallen further behind partnered men in earnings and education. Researchers have concluded it is a combination of high-income men being more attractive as partners, and cohabitating boosting men’s economic fortunes.

“We have a ‘chicken or egg’ problem. It’s a little bit of both, especially for guys,” Mr. Fry said. “They are assessed on their financial capabilities, so some of this is because the unpartnered guys tend to have lower earnings. They are having a harder time. They are considered a less suitable partner. It’s low earnings and being less educated that is causing them to be unpartnered.”

Despite the disadvantages, many single people find that the rewards of being unattached outweigh any economic benefits of being partnered. That includes Ms. DePaulo, who wrote an essay for Medium last month after being 50 years single as she turned 68.

Single people invest more in friendships and enjoy more freedom and solitude, and some studies show they are happier over time, she said in the email.

“Single people are doing quite well in many ways, despite all the ways they are unfairly disadvantaged relative to people who are married or coupled,” Ms. DePaulo said.

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