If you are a single woman in America today, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in good company. For the first time in history, single women—that is, women who are not married, widowed, divorced, or separated—outnumber married women in the U.S., according to a recent Pew report.
Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies, calls this growing “independent female adulthood” the new normal.
“That one model that was the model for how American women were supposed to live their adulthoods has been lifted, and what’s exposed is this variety of paths,” she recently told Fusion’s Alicia Menendez in an interview.
For a closer look at this new normal, Alicia Menendez spoke to unmarried women in New York City—a city whose women make up 53% of the population. As part of our Chasing the Dream series, Menendez spoke with Vanessa Kitchen, 32, Tressel Davis, 34, Chinae Alexander, 30, Anna Premo, 31, Francis Patton, 33, Angela Ivana, 29, and Carrie Sheffield, 33.
Each of these women is challenging American marriage norms, and in doing so, redefining the American dream.
“I think sometimes you do, for a second, buy into what society is selling, of like the sexiness of having a plan for your life, and having kind of things worked out, and knowing where you’re going to spend your years, and who you’re going to spend it with,” lifestyle blogger Chinae Alexander told Menendez. “For me, it was about: am I buying into someone else’s dreams?”
Interestingly, several women in the group had been previously engaged or had turned down marriage proposals. One of the women was divorced; none of them had children. Unlike their parents’ generation, these millennial women are more concerned with establishing their own lives before agreeing to share it with a partner.
“Once you start living with someone, everyone asks you when are you guys getting engaged” real estate agent Vanessa Kitchen told Menendez. “I think right around 26 to 28 – that was what all of my friends were doing and not to say I got married because of that reason, by any means, but I definitely did feel pressure to take the relationship to the next step after… being together for a certain amount of time.”
The proportion of married adults dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009, according to Census data. Traister believes the declining marriage rates are less about the institution of marriage and more about the choices available to women today.
“The story of women marrying later and less frequently is not a story of women rejecting marriage for any politicized or feminist reasons. A lot of it is that women are not marrying in the same numbers that they used to because they don’t have to anymore,” Traister told Menendez. “It’s no longer the only way for them to have economic stability. “
One of the seven women Menendez spoke with echoed that sentiment. “I’m constantly changing what I want to do and where I want to live, and in a sense who I want to be,” Anna Premo, a Barre instructor said. “It’s so important that as I change, whomever I’m with, doesn’t have to change with me, but they have to allow me the space to [change] and I think that’s a challenge.”
This conversation would not be complete without broaching the subject of homeownership. Most of the people we spoke with throughout our Chasing the Dream research said owning a home represents a symbolic milestone in the pursuit of the American dream. In fact, 88 percent of millennials who do not own a home today hope to purchase a home in the future, according to a Credit Karma Millennial poll. Did this hold true for our group of single women?
It did, albeit the majority of the group did not see homeownership as a priority in the near future. Only two of the seven women were homeowners.
“I bought my home when I was 28—a condo in New York, which seemed impossible, but it is possible and my parents owned a home as well,” retail analyst, Tressel Davis, said to the group. “Home ownership is about claiming a stake in the country, which I think is very, very important to do.” she added.
After speaking with these women it became very clear: these single ladies are defining the American dream on their own terms.
For more episodes of Chasing the Dream click here.