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The invisible man: single guys are focus of new study

by Thomas F. Coleman

Meaningful information about the economic, social, and political concerns of unmarried Americans has been hard to find. Republicans focus on “family values” while Democrats chant “working families” and the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to promote marriage.

Single people have pretty much been left out of the national political debate and have generally been ignored by university researchers. Public opinion polls have not shown much interest in unmarried Americans either.

Although a considerable amount of media attention has focused on single women recently, not so for single men. It’s almost as if they are invisible.

So I did a double take recently when I came across an 83-page report entitled “The State of Unmarried America: A Demographic, Lifestyle, and Attitudinal Overview of America’s Emerging Majority.” The report, released in February 2006, was published by Women’s Voices-Women Vote and is based on a national survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

Although two thirds of the report focuses on unmarried women and their concerns, I was surprised that it contained a major segment on unmarried men. This is the first time that any major policy report has paid attention to this largely ignored segment of the American population.

According to the report, unmarried men represent 19 percent of all adults – some 37.6 million Americans — and about 40 percent of all adult men in the nation.

They are a growing segment of society. Since 1960, when unmarried men accounted for only five percent of adult Americans, their numbers have grown to nearly one-fifth of all adults today.

Among unmarried men, 67 percent have never been married, 23 percent are divorced, 6 percent are widowed, and 4 percent are separated. Only 5 percent of unmarried men have children under 18 living at home – a much lower percentage than for married men, married women or unmarried women.

Unmarried men are not as economically advantaged as their married counterparts. About 38 percent of unmarried men live in households with incomes under $30,000 a year, compared to less than 20 percent of married men. Only 20 percent of unmarried men have household incomes of $75,000 or more compared to more than 33 percent of married men.

A quarter of unmarried men do not have health insurance, more than twice the uninsured rate of married people. Just half own their own homes – 19 percent fewer than the general population.

As a whole, two-thirds of unmarried men are less than 45 years old. Some 30 percent are 18 to 24 years old, compared to just 2 percent of married men. This seems to have an effect on their mobility.

Unmarried men are twice as likely as married men to have lived in their current home for less than six months, and only 47 percent of unmarried men have lived in the same place for five years or more, compared to 63 percent of married men.

Unmarried men also have fewer ties to organized religion than married men. Only 20 percent go to church every week, compared to 36 percent of married men and 38 percent of unmarried women. About half of unmarried men never go to church, compared to only 31 percent of married men.

Unmarried men are not turning out for elections in proportion to their numbers. Perhaps this is due to their lack of resources and fewer binding ties — single men make lower wages, are more likely to rent than own a home, and are less likely to be raising children.

While only 44 percent of unmarried men voted in 2000, about half voted in 2004. This six percent increase in turnout among unmarried men was twice the increase in turnout among married men.

The report suggests that Democrats would benefit the most if they could mobilize unmarried men and get them to the voting booth in larger numbers.

Some 61 percent of unmarried men believe the nation is on “the wrong track,” compared to 45 percent of married men who hold this same view.

So what do unmarried men want the government to do to get on the right track? Reducing the deficit is a major priority. But so is greater government investment in education, child care, and social security.

Now that we know more about the demographics and concerns of unmarried men, will either party try to win this group over to their side for the congressional elections this year or the presidential elections 2008?

All in all, 19 million unmarried men were not registered or did not vote in the 2004 presidential election. The question is whether either the Democrats or Republicans really care.

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