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And it is singles, not marrieds, who are the most active in their communities.“When people get married, they have less contact with their friends, their siblings, their neighborhood,” De Paulo says, adding that studies show this is true even with people who are married and don’t have children.Today, she says, “I am unmarried, unattached, and have no partner.” Still, she says, friends take umbrage when Ms.Dublin calls herself a single mom, since her ex-husband also cares for their sons.“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.While openly living with a partner outside of marriage would have been taboo – especially a same-sex partner, as in Wright’s case (not to mention a family such as Ryan’s) – today it is almost expected.

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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.

For years, the average age at which both men and women first marry has been creeping upward, to 27 for women and 29 for men. In other words, there may at any given moment be more single people who have never been married, but that doesn’t mean that those singles are going to stay that way.

But this seemingly simple demographic explanation belies a huge shift in culture.

Last year, for the first time, the number of unmarried American adults outnumbered those who were married.

One in 7 lives alone – about 31 million compared with 4 million in 1950 – and many of those are clustered in urban centers.

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