The share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high, reports Pew Research Center.
In 2012, 1 in 5 adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married; in 1960, only about 1 in 10 adults (9 percent) in that age range had never been married.
About half of never-married adults say they would like to eventually marry.
- Men are more likely than women to have never been married (23 percent vs. 17 percent in 2012). This gender gap has widened since 1960, when 10 percent of men ages 25 and older and 8 percent of women of the same age had never married.
- The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960.
- About a quarter (24 percent) of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 are living with a partner.
- 46 percent of Americans say society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, while 50 percent say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. (Fully two-thirds of those ages 18 to 29 [67 percent] express this latter viewpoint, as do 53 percent of those ages 30 to 49.)
- Most Americans (68 percent) continue to believe it is important for couples to marry if they plan to spend the rest of their lives together.
- Never-married women place a great deal of importance on finding someone who has a steady job; 78 percent say this would be very important to them in choosing a spouse or partner. Never-married men are more likely to look for someone who shares their ideas about raising children.
- Never-married adults—whether male or female—place a much lower priority on finding a partner who shares their moral and religious beliefs, has a similar educational pedigree, or comes from the same racial or ethnic background.
What does this mean for churches?
For decades, churches have used an appeal to families as their primary outreach tool. Kids’ and youth ministries were a way to draw in parents and keep families in the congregation.
While encouraging families and discipling children and students will (and should) always be part of the church’s role, pastors and leaders should be aware that a rising number of adults in their congregation and community are single.
This is particularly true with Millennials, who marry at a lower rate compared to other generations at their age. Less than a third (28 percent) are married between the ages of 18-33, while at the same age 38 percent of Generation X, 49 percent of Boomers, and 64 percent of the Silent Generation were married.
Churches must be more acquainted with singles and how they can best reach them and involve them in the local body of Christ.
At Christianity Today, Lore Ferguson, a freelance writer, pointed to benefits for the church in having more singles in leadership. “Church, fill your staff with single men and women. Pursue them for ministry places,” she wrote. “Do not always make the comfortable choice of a potential staffer who has 2.5 kids and a house in the suburbs.”
On her personal blog, Ferguson, who is single herself, shared how churches can best serve singles by giving them “land to till” and not making false assumptions about their current state or ability to serve within the body.
In an upcoming issue of Facts & Trends, Ferguson will share even more about how singles can serve the church and how the church can serve singles.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.