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Unmarried America: Demographics and Attitudes

by Ruy Teixeira

I strongly recommend a close look at a recent set of materials issued by Women’s Voices, Women Vote. These materials include the results of a survey of unmarried adults conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR), an extensive chartpack based on the survey findings and other research by GQR and, last, but not least, an 83 page report “The State of Unmarried America” by GQR.

The findings confirm that unmarrieds, particularly women, are a strong group for progressives, and that unmarrieds as a group are growing steadily as a proportion of the population. But there are serious challenges in terms of mobilization and tailoring a progressive message appropriate for these voters’ concerns–all of which is covered in the GQR/WVWV materials.

On the demographics of the unmarried population (from the report):

Over the past half century, family structure changed dramatically and the number of unmarried Americans increased considerably. During the 1950’s, approximately 80 percent of Americans lived in households headed by married couples; now that number is just less than half. iv By 2008, more than half will be headed by an unmarried person. As more people remain or become unmarried (e.g., divorce), families are starting to look different. According to a recent study, 24 percent of households in the country are in “traditional” or “nuclear” families (defined as two parents with children) and 16 percent of households are in non-traditional families (defined as a child and a male or female head of household, with no spouse present). In 1950, only 9 percent of children were growing up in one-parent homes, while by 2000 this number had increased to 26 percent.

Today, there is a majority of unmarried heads of household in 17 states and 139 congressional districts across the country. This demographic transformation is occurring very rapidly. As recently as 1990, only one state had a non-married majority head of household, and, in 2000, there were only 11 states with non-married household

There are 10 million more unmarried women than unmarried men (56 percent female compared to 44 percent male), primarily because women live longer than men. Twenty-four percent of voting-age Americans are unmarried women, compared to 19 percent who are unmarried men.

For the past half century, unmarried women have been growing steadily as a share of the population. In 1965, only 15 percent of all Americans were unmarried women, compared to 24 percent now. Nearly half (46 percent) of all women are unmarried.

On the attitudes of the unmarried population (note how unmarried men, while not as change-oriented and progressive as unmarried women, are still remarkably progressive for a subgroup of men):

1. Unmarried women are 18 percent right direction/74 percent wrong track, while unmarried men are 35/57.

2. Among unmarried women, 71 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost in US lives and dollars; among unmarried men, 68 percent feel the same way.

3. Unmarried women and men also differ little on whether the government should do more to help the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt–62 percent of unmarried women and 59 percent of unmarried men endorse this viewpoint, as opposed to the alternative that the government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy.

4. On whether the role of the government should be to promote the principle of self-reliance or the principle of a strong community and opportunity, both unmarried women (64-30) and men, albeit narrowly (51-44), come down on the side of a strong community and opportunity.

5. On Bush job approval, just 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men approve of his job performance.

6. Including leaners, unmarried men are 54 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican, while unmarried women are 62 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican.