Unmarried women without children have been moving toward the Democratic Party for several years, but the 2022 midterms may have been their electoral coming out party as they proved the chief break on the predicted Republican wave. While married men and women as well as unmarried men broke for the GOP, CNN exit polls found that 68% of unmarried women voted for Democrats.
The Supreme Court’s August decision overturning Roe v. Wade was certainly a special factor in the midterms, but longer-term trends show that single, childless women are joining African Americans as the Democrats’ most reliable supporters.
Their power is growing thanks to the demographic winds. The number of never married women has grown from about 20% in 1950 to over 30% in 2022, while the percentage of married women has declined from almost 70% in 1950 to under 50% today. Overall, the percentage of married households with children has declined from 37% in 1976 to 21% today.
The Single Wave
The Pew Research Center notes that since 1960, single-person households in the United States have grown from 13% to 27% (2019). Many, particularly women, are not all that keen on finding a partner. Pew recently found that “men are far more likely than women to be on the dating market: 61% of single men say they are currently looking for a relationship or dates, compared with 38% of single women.”
There’s clearly far less stigma attached to being single and unpartnered. Single women today have many impressive role models of unattached, childless women who have succeeded on their own – like Taylor Swift and much of the U.S. women’s soccer team. This phenomenon is not confined to the United States. Marriage and birthrates have fallen in much of the world, including Europe and Japan. Writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, columnist Emma John observed that, “Singleness is no longer to be sneered at. Never marrying or taking a long-term partner is increasingly seen as a valid choice.”
Rise of Identity Politics
The rise of SWFs – a twist on the personal ad abbreviation for single white female – is one of the great untold stories of American politics. Distinct from divorced women or widows, these largely Gen Z and Millennial voters share a sense of collective identity and progressive ideology that sets them apart from older women. More likely to live in urban centers and to support progressive policies, they are a driving force in the Democratic party’s and the nation’s shift to the left. One paradox, however: Democrats depend ever more on women defined in the strict biological sense while much of the party’s progressive wing embraces the blurred and flexible gender boundaries of its identity politics.
Attitudes are what most distinguish single women from other voters. An American Enterprise Institute survey shows that married men and women are far more likely than unmarried females to think women are well treated or equally treated. As they grow in numbers, these discontented younger single women are developing something of a group consciousness. Nearly two thirds of women under 30, for example, see what happens to other women as critical to their own lives; among women over 50, this mindset shrinks to less than half.
Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Investigations.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.