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Twitter Chat: What’s the economic impact of the rise of single U.S. adults?

Every month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases an “Employment Situation Summary” based on current employment and population statistics the agency collects. While looking over the August report, economist Edward Yardeni noticed something surprising — the majority, 50.2 percent, of U.S. adults are now single.

At first glance, it appears this data could have an extreme economic impact. After all, fewer couples tying the knot could mean a decrease in home ownership and spending on things like childcare. Yardeni has also argued that an increase in the number of single-person households has exaggerated U.S. income inequality, stating that although these households have lower annual earnings, their expenses are fewer than those of a couple or a family.

However, as Facebook user Brenda Hill was quick to point out, “Single doesn’t mean what it used to.” Another user commented on the original NewsHour article reporting Yardeni’s findings, “there is one area that the statistics cannot easily capture which I think slightly skews the data, namely a couple living together that chooses not to get married. They would both file their taxes as single.” Divorced and widowed individuals are also counted as single in the BLS data, meaning the nation’s aging population could be behind the steady increase.

Still, many of our readers saw ways in which the younger generation might be contributing to the trend. Facebook user Chris Allen observed, “living at home with your parents after college while you work two minimum wage jobs to try to pay off your student debt isn’t conducive to getting married and having children.” And reader Villemar believes more people of all ages are isolating themselves socially. “Why go out and meet people on a night when you can wander around online or binge-watch an episodic series on Netflix?”

Another factor skewing the data — “adult” in this case refers to anyone over the age of sixteen, meaning unmarried high schoolers are also included in the high percentage of U.S. singles. PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has previously reported on ways in which BLS data may fail to paint the full picture. In August 2013, he suggested that a drop in the percentage of unemployed individuals seen in the July jobs report, was in fact due to a shrinking workforce, the result of many baby boomers reaching retirement age. Paul also measures unemployment using the more inclusive, “Solman Scale,” which includes part-time workers seeking full-time work, and “discouraged” job hunters who have stopped looking but are still in need of work, two groups that are excluded in the BLS unemployment numbers.

What do you think? Is the BLS data strong enough to support Yardeni’s findings? What social and economic factors are behind the decline in matrimony? Is this trend a result of the nation’s economic downturn? Will it contribute to it? We invited you to share your opinions in a Twitter chat. Economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Dean Baker (@DeanBaker13) also shared his insights. Read a full transcript of the conversation below.

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