Lonelier and poorer: the incredibly depressing future for Americans

It’s just not as much fun without a partner.
It’s just not as much fun without a partner.
Image: Reuters / Lucy Nicholson
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Let’s face it. When push comes to shove, we all die utterly alone.

And apparently, more of us are living that way too, according to recent updates on the declining marriage rate in the US and its negative impact on American family finances.

In an analysis of the US Census Bureau’s recently released median household income data, Ben Casselman at WSJ’s Real Time Economics examined the entrails of the US Census Bureau’s recently-released median household income data and found that the income levels of a “typical” US family correlate with both the state of the US economy and changes in family structure. He writes:

The median income for all families with children under 18 was just under $60,000 last year, up about 3% since 1990 after adjusting for inflation. But what might once have been considered the “typical” American family—a married couple, living together, with at least one child under 18—has done quite a bit better: Their median income was $81,455, up nearly 16% from 1990.

The trouble is, such families have become significantly less common over time. In 1980, married couples made up 80% of all families with children. A decade later, that figure had fallen below 75%. Today, it’s less than two-thirds.

Here’s another look at the decline in marriage numbers, from the US Census Department. In 1970, around 71% of households were classified as married couples. That’s down to about 49% in the most recent numbers for 2012.


The move away from marriage isn’t just financially troubling for young couples. Older people are opting out of marriage, too. Over the weekend, the New York Times noted a doubling in divorce among people over age 50 since 1990. “Divorce can contribute to economic strain and poor health, placing a larger burden on children and, given shrinking family size, on institutional support from government and other sources,” warned the New York Times.

Adding to the dire warnings is a 15-nation survey of retirement expectations recently published by HSBC. “The findings paint a particularly bleak picture for the growing number of Americans who are currently living alone: one in three (33%) divorced or separated U.S. respondents said they did not believe they would ever be able to retire, compared with the survey average of one in five (20%).”

In sum, if financial comfort is your priority, a ho-hum marriage might suit you better than a life of solitary bliss.