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NY Times: More U.S. women living without husband than with one

Published: Monday January 15, 2007
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More women in the U.S. are living husband-free than ever before, an analysis by The New York Times reveals.

"For what sociologists say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results," writes Sam Roberts for The Times, in an article that will appear on the front page of tomorrow's edition.

"In 2005, 51 percent of women were living without a spouse, up from 49 percent in 2000 and 35 percent in 1950," Roberts reports, noting that while most women do marry in time, there's a larger trend at work.

"[C]oupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time," the article continues, "the trend could ultimately shape a range of social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits."

Excerpts from the registration-restricted article follow...


Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods of time. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared to about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.

"This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives," said Professor Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. "Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage." She said this was probably unprecedented with the possible exception of major wartime mobilizations and when black couples were separated during slavery.