Valentine’s Day is a day of love, a special day on which we’re supposed to make sure that those around us know how much we care for them. But on this day when Cupid is supposed to strike us with his arrow, there are several reasons to think “love” (by its many definitions) isn’t what it once was in the United States, for better or for worse.
Indeed, here are four potentially troubling statistics and one potentially positive sign about love in the US.
We’re at a 30-year low for sex
Twenty-six percent of Americans ages 18 and up didn’t have sex once over the past 12 months, according to the 2021 General Social Survey. You might think this is just a pandemic effect, but it’s part of a long-term trend. The two years with next-highest percentage of adults saying they didn’t have sex once in the past year were 2016 (23%) and 2018 (23%) – the last two times the survey was conducted. Before 2004, the highest percentage of Americans who said they hadn’t had sex in the past year was 19%.
Last year’s survey was also the first time that the percentage of Americans who had sex once a month or less topped 50%. In 1989, 35% of American adults had sex once a month or less.
Some of this has to do with fewer people getting married and an aging population, but that doesn’t explain all of it. Among married couples under the age of 60, 26% had sex once a month or less in 2021. In 1989, it was 12%. The 1980s really were better for sex.
We’re at a 30-year low for living together
It’s not just about sex. Some 62% of Americans ages 25 to 54 lived with a partner or were married, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center study of 2019 US Census Bureau data. This included 53% who were married and 9% who were cohabitating. That’s well below the 71% of couples who lived together in 1990, with 67% married and 4% cohabitating.
You might think the growing share of unmarried people living without a spouse is due to rising educational levels among women who don’t need the financial support of a man. The statistics tell a different story, though. Better educated people and higher wage earners are the most likely to live with a partner or be married. A lot of people won’t get married if they don’t think it’s financially feasible, according to Pew polling.
There’s also been a higher increase in unmarried men living alone (10 points) than women (7 points) compared to the 1990 baseline.
Partnership is at a low, not just marriage
Could it just be the case that people are still in relationships, but don’t want to be tied down by either living together or being married? Yes, but the statistics suggest something else is cooking.
The General Social Survey has, on and off since 1986, asked participants whether they had a steady partner. This past year, 30% of adults ages 25 to 54 (the same age bracket as the Pew study) indicated that they did not have a steady partner. In 1986, it was 20%. In fact, the percentage of 25- to 54-year-olds who said they didn’t have a steady partner never topped 23% prior to the 2010s. It’s been 25% or above in every survey since.
Interestingly, as the population ages and more Baby Boomers have gotten above the age of 55, the percentage of older folks in a relationship has stayed fairly steady – in the mid-to-high 60s on average.
That means this trend toward singledom is more about young people than older people. It’s the same with sex: The percentage of those age 55 and older not having any sex in the last year (40%) is about the same as it was 30 years ago.
Many Americans won’t get their partner a card for Valentine’s Day
Of course, the reason love is on my mind is that today is Valentine’s Day. Love is supposed to be in the air.
A 2022 Monmouth University poll found, however, that a mere 55% of Americans in relationships usually receive a Valentine’s Day card from their partner. Combine the other 45% with the over 30% of all American adults without a partner, and most people aren’t getting a card from a partner this year.
Once again, it’s among the younger generation where love seems to be less in the air. The clear majority (64%) of Americans ages 55 and older who are in a relationship say they usually get a card from their partner. This drops to 57% among those ages 35 to 54 and a mere 41% in my age bracket (18-34).
It shouldn’t be that hard to do Valentine’s Day right. Our partners really don’t want that much from us. Just 4% want an expensive gift more than anything else for Valentine’s Day. The majority across age brackets yearn for a simple gift like chocolates or to spend the night at home with their partner doing a favorite activity.
The divorce rate is dropping
If there is one thing good about declining marriage and partner rates, it’s that it seems people are less likely to run headlong into a marriage that has a high probability of failing.
The rate of divorces and annulments was at its lowest level this century in 2019, according to the CDC/NCHS National Vital Statistics System. There were 2.7 divorces and annulments per 1,000 people in the population. That’s down from 4 per 1,000 in the year 2000.
It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that the divorce rate among young adults has seen the sharpest drop. This is the group that is least likely to marry, and those who do seem to be doing a better job of going into a marriage that has a good chance of succeeding.
Maybe one day I’ll be one of those lucky ones in a successful marriage. A boy can hope. Can’t he?