Once again, popular music follows contemporary culture. Beyonce’s pop hit, “Single Ladies,” celebrates today’s cohabitation scene. With nearly 50 percent of young adults aged 20-40 cohabiting, living together has become a far-too-typical experience marking a young woman’s coming of age. Beyonce’s lyrics treat the reality of cohabitation with typical sass — “Cuz I cried my tears, gave three good years.” Actually, the typical cohabiting relationship lasts only 18 months, and usually it is the guy rather than the girl who determines when it ends and whether it will lead to marriage.
Perhaps Beyonce’s hit song gives a small glimmer of hope that, in addition to reflecting a new consciousness in the popular culture, she will magnify the influence on the culture of this budding new realism — the age-old idea that men should “put a ring on it.” She wistfully declares that though “we just broke up,” “your love is what I prefer.” Nevertheless, the song stresses that the singer “deserves” much more: a lasting, permanent love, one that “delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond.”
In addition to her popularity and talent, Beyonce was almost guaranteed a hit because the number of “single ladies” sharing a living space with “benefits” has dramatically increased — up 1,000 percent in the U.S. since 1970 and more than tripled in the United Kingdom (U.K.) between 1976 and 2004 (from 9 percent to 28 percent). While increasingly common among college students and young professionals, living together without marriage is even more common among the uneducated and poor. In addition, by age 20, nearly three-out-of-four young women have experienced premarital sex (74 percent).
Marriage rates around the world have dropped precipitously. Since 1972, the U.S. marriage rate (among all females 15-44) has decreased by nearly one-third, while the rate in the United Kingdom has decreased by more than half. In France, there has been a 43 percent decrease, and in Germany, a 38 percent decrease (added to an 18 percent decrease from 1960-1970). These data mean that the British rate of young unmarried women has jumped to almost three-out-of-five for women of childbearing age, while the American rate has gone from two-out-of-five to not quite one-half. According to Dr. Neil Clark Warren, nearly half of today’s young adults cannot recommend even one single healthy, exemplary marriage.