If you're married, you're in the minority

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David Bancroft Avrick
David Bancroft Avrick

According to the American Community Survey, released by the Census Bureau, only 49.7% of Americans (55.2 million people) are married. Just five years ago, the percentage was 52%. The total number of married couples is the highest in history, but that's because of our rapidly expanding population.

Most Americans will eventually marry. But marriage is no longer de rigueur. More and more people are either living alone or living unmarried with a partner. One in 20 households has one person alone. One in 10 households consists of unmarried partners. This is to some extent a function of people getting married later in life.

This doesn't mean that the desire for marriage and a family has decreased. People cite a variety of reasons for living with their partners. Some are aware of the high incidence of divorce, and view living together as a test before marriage. Others cite convenience, or a rejection of “old-fashioned” beliefs.

This trend has serious implications for direct marketers. For example, single people buy more music, but less insurance; travel more, but are less likely to purchase a home. Families are more stable, married people are less likely to change jobs and to relocate.

There are 5.2 million unmarried couples composed of opposite-sex partners. That's a little more than 5% of the population. There are also 413,000 male couples and 363,000 female couples living together. These numbers are growing rapidly.

Overall, unmarried households have increased by 14%, Male couple households have expanded by 24% and female couples have expanded by 12%. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force suggests that these numbers are understated because many gay and lesbian couples are still unwilling to disclose their sexual orientation.

Geography plays an important part.

In San Francisco, 2% of all households have male partners, in Manhattan it's 1 %. Northampton, MA, has the highest percentage of female couples at 1.7%. In the rural Midwest, the number of households made up of male partners has expanded by 77% in the last five years.

The highest percentage of unmarried couples is in the South. The highest percentage of married couples is in Utah, with some areas registering 69%. Manhattan has only 26%, the lowest percentage of married couples anywhere in the United States.

It is interesting to note that in the last five years, the percentage of married couples increased in Manhattan while decreasing almost everywhere else in the nation.

Age also plays an important part. While the majority of households 25 to 34 years of age are unmarried, the majority of households with people ages 35 to 64 are married couples.

The percentage of married couples has been steadily decreasing. Seventy-five years ago, 84% of households were married couples. By 1990 that number had declined to 56%, and today it's less than 50%.

Marketers must re-examine their marketing strategies, to make sure they are in sync with today's reality. Many of us confuse the “world we were raised in” with “the world we live in.” Almost every company is impacted by these changes. For some, these trends will increase business, for others, it will be necessary to make changes to keep pace with the ever changing demographics of society.

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