While openly living with a partner outside of marriage would have been taboo – especially a same-sex partner, as in Wright’s case (not to mention a family such as Ryan’s) – today it is almost expected.The social penalties for sexual relationships outside of marriage have disintegrated, says Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.In small-town Minnesota, marriage was just what people did. Today, almost two decades, hundreds of dates, and untold hours on OKCupid later, Ms.Denison, who moved to Boston when she was 26, lives in a far different reality.“There are tons of single people in Boston,” she says.Four in 10 Americans went ever further, telling Pew researchers in 2010 that marriage was becoming obsolete.In short, academics say, American society is in the midst of a fundamental social and demographic shift, the “greatest social change of the last 60 years that we haven't already named and identified,” according to New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Klinenberg's full quote.] It is a shift that goes well beyond the dynamics of relationships, affecting everything from housing and health care to child rearing and churches.For years, the average age at which both men and women first marry has been creeping upward, to 27 for women and 29 for men. In other words, there may at any given moment be more single people who have never been married, but that doesn’t mean that those singles are going to stay that way.But this seemingly simple demographic explanation belies a huge shift in culture.
One in 7 lives alone – about 31 million compared with 4 million in 1950 – and many of those are clustered in urban centers.
But as Klinenberg points out in his book “Going Solo,” cultural attitudes have changed.
Today, living on one’s own is a marker of adulthood.
“Just as marriages are no longer alike, singleness is no longer all alike,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families.
Understanding the various facets of the new Singles Nation, it turns out, is key to understanding much about America today.