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Particularly for college graduates, this delay in marriage has ushered in a new phase of life that sociologists are calling “emerging adulthood” or, less charitably, “delayed adolescence.” This is a time when people focus on their careers and their own personal fulfillment, sociologists say: They go out to dinner, work late hours, and make close groups of friends that are sometimes dubbed “urban tribes.” And while there has been some hand-wringing about this, with worries about a lack of maturity among young American adults today, a number of scholars who study singles point out that this group is the antidote to another point of cultural anxiety: the decline in community.College-educated singles are moving into old downtown buildings and spending money in revitalizing urban centers.When Karin Denison was in her early 20s, it seemed that all her peers were coupling up and planning to live happily ever after.She spent the summers after college driving to friends’ weddings, she recalls.
In short, academics say, American society is in the midst of a fundamental social and demographic shift, the “greatest social change of the last 60 years that we haven't already named and identified,” according to New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Klinenberg's full quote.] It is a shift that goes well beyond the dynamics of relationships, affecting everything from housing and health care to child rearing and churches.And the number of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high, around 20 percent.Meanwhile, only 30 percent of Millennials say that having a successful marriage is “one of the most important things” in life, according to the Pew Research Center, down from even the 47 percent of Generation X who said the same thing in 1997.“It’s just the opposite of the stereotype.”Quite often, she says, single people realize that they enjoy living without a spouse.
“People used to think of single life as where you mark time until you get married,” she says. It’s the real thing.”• • • But the definition of “single” is a bit vague. And that leaves plenty of room for different family structures. So is Sarah Wright, the board chair of a singles’ advocacy group called Unmarried Equality, who lives with a longtime partner.“I do not describe myself as ‘single’ because I’m not,” Ms. “I am coupled.” When she gets government forms asking for her marital status, she crosses off all the responses and writes in “none.”Tara Dublin of Portland, Ore., is officially single, even though she was married for years.“You can be single in Boston and nobody really cares.