The Rise of Single People

Historical documentation of the remarkable increase in single people in the U.S.

Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave
Published in
7 min readSep 19, 2021

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Census Bureau

The third week in September, September 19 through September 25 in 2021, is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. I just call it Singles Week. To celebrate, I’ve created a series of graphs, based on Census Bureau data, demonstrating the dramatic rise in single people over more than half a century.

The Number of People Living Alone Has Skyrocketed Over the Past 60 Years

In 1960, fewer than 7 million Americans lived alone. Those 1-person households accounted for only 13 percent of all households. By 2020, more than five times as many Americans were living alone, 36.2 million. That amounts to nearly three in 10 of all households (28.1 percent).

Census Bureau

Not all people who live alone are unmarried. Some are living apart from their spouse or committed romantic partner, sometimes by choice — they like having places of their own. Therefore, these numbers do not tell us the number of people who are not married. More importantly, most people who are not married do not live alone. The graph in the next section shows the total number of adults in the U.S., 18 and older, who are divorced or separated, widowed, or have always been single — more commonly called “never married.” (I don’t love terms like “unmarried” or “never married” that define single people in terms of what they are not, but sometimes I use them anyway because they are succinct and more readily understood than terms like “always single.”)

Want to know more about the psychology of living alone? Check out this collection of articles, especially “How living alone will transform men,” “The secret strengths of people who live alone,” and “Is living alone the unlikely answer to loneliness?”.

The Number of Unmarried Americans Has Tripled in the Past Half-Century

In 1970, only 38 million Americans were unmarried — divorced or separated, widowed, or never married. They accounted for just 28 percent of…

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Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com