clock menu more-arrow no yes

78 percent of never-married women are looking for a spouse with a job. Finding one might be tricky

Even if this woman's paycheck covers her crazy-expensive dress, she probably wants her husband to have a job, too.
Even if this woman's paycheck covers her crazy-expensive dress, she probably wants her husband to have a job, too.
Getty Images

More Americans than ever are staying single. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, a record one in five Americans over 25 are in the "never-married" category.

There are a whole bunch of reasons for this. One is that people just don't want to get married as much as they used to — as of 2010, 61 percent of never-married Americans said they wanted to get married. Today, it's only 53 percent.

But the labor market also is a big hurdle here — more specifically, women's pesky expectation that their husbands participate in it.

Marriage men women Pew

(Pew Research Center, this and all following charts)

(On an unrelated but curiosity-piquing note, something funny is going on with the men here: either one, men don't have strong or universal opinions on what they want in a spouse; two, Pew didn't give them the options to which they would have responded more strongly; or three, both.)

If you're looking for good news, here it is: America's single, employed men (that is, those who want to marry a woman) can rejoice, because they are what women want, and they are also in short supply, relative to the population of women.

Men women unmarried

And America's single women, meanwhile, can sigh dejectedly and fire up Tinder, because that one trait they're looking for above all others (that Pew listed) is exactly what has grown increasingly rare over the years.

Yes, the playing field is even for all unmarried people, with 97 men for every 100 women, but only 65 of those men are working. For young never-marrieds, it's also looking historically grim. Among never-married people age 25 to 34, there are 126 men for every never-married woman, but only 91 of those men are working. Back in 1960, there were 139 working, never-married men for all 100 never-married women.

And this dearth varies hugely by race, at least among young people. For every 100 young black women, there are only 51 employed young black men.

Women men race marriage

Not only that, but a steady job matters more to black respondents (of all ages) than it does to white respondents.

Why does all this matter? For many people, it doesn't; lots of couples cohabit happily. The decline in marriage is in and of itself not a reason to panic. But one area where this decline of marriage matters is in childbearing. Children from married families do better at school than children who grow up in other arrangements, as I wrote last week, and broadly speaking, marriages on the whole tend to be more stable than cohabiting relationships. Stable families simply create more social mobility.

So what to do? One answer is to wait for the job market to heal...or give it a boost, and the institution best-positioned to do that right now is the Fed. Maybe pumping stimulus into the economy will help men get jobs, making them marriageable.

But then there's that question of women wanting men with steady jobs. Do today's young college-grad women simply need to let go of their dreams of finding men with jobs? According to one of the report's authors, the desire for a working spouse is in fact higher among less-educated people.

"We know people with less education are more likely to say 'a steady job' and finding someone with similar education is more important to them when they're looking for a spouse," says Wendy Wang, a co-author of the report.