Personal Finance

Single people are worse off financially, study shows

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Key Points
  • Fewer people are coupled up these days, but those who are do better financially.
  • Single adults are more likely to be unemployed or earning less, according to a report.
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For decades, adults have increasingly shunned the idea of tying the knot.

Although more people are cohabitating, it has not been enough to offset the steady decline in marriage, leaving more people uncoupled overall, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of the latest census data.

Now, a record number of adults between the ages of 25 and 54 are single, Pew found.

As of 2019, roughly 38% of 25- to 54-year-olds were neither married nor living with a partner, up sharply from 29% in 1990.

However, single adults are worse off financially, Pew also said.

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"Partnership seems to have some benefits," said Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew.

Whether better economic circumstances make someone more desirable as a potential mate or because being in a relationship has a positive influence on career prospects, "better labor outcomes are associated with having a partner," Fry said.

Single adults are less likely to have a bachelor's degree and less likely to be employed compared to their coupled-up counterparts, Pew found.

"In 2019, less than three quarters of single men were employed versus 91% of partnered men," Fry said. "That's a stark difference." (By comparison, single women are also less likely to have a college degree but slightly more likely to be employed.)

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As a result, single adults make less money, on average, than partnered adults and are more likely to live with their parents. (In 2020, the number of adults moving back home temporarily spiked due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but has since come down.)

Men with a partner take home $57,000 in median earnings as of 2019, compared to $35,600 for single men.

For women, the difference is smaller but still persistent, with those in a relationship making $40,000 in median earnings versus $32,000 for singles.

Further, the gap in economic success is only growing over time. "This trend has been steadily occurring over 30 years," Fry said. "I don't have any reason to believe it has peaked."

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