A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that a mere 26% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 32 were married in 2013, compared to 48% of baby boomers and 36% of Generation X-ers who tied the knot at the same age. But it's not just that more millennials are unmarried; we're unpartnered too. A recent Gallup poll found that a whopping 60% of women identified as single.
But instead of being mopey sad-girls about it, plenty of young women are totally cool with this arrangement. "I just feel like I'm happier and more myself [when I'm single]," Tumblr user ptosistwitcheye told Mic. "When I'm with someone else, I constantly feel the need to be their ideal person and push who I really am to the side."
But choosing to "stay single" — whether that means entering a committed but unwed partnership eventually, or swiping left on Tinder for the long haul — isn't entirely about following your arrow or being true to oneself. Seeking other sources of happiness at work, on the road or with friends plays a huge part in many young women's pursuit of singledom. After polling Mic readers on Tumblr, we came up with six of the most common reasons why millennial women are flying solo.
1. We're busy starting our careers.
Compared to our grandmothers, nearly twice as many 20-something women are employed. But millennial women aren't just "part of the workforce." We have careers that we give many, many shits about. And sometimes, having a partner just doesn't fit into the equation.
"No matter how much a partner could bring a level of sparkle and support to my life, ultimately I will be spending the majority of my waking hours working, so it is of utmost importance to me that my work bring me joy," Megan, 23, told Mic. "Additionally, my time is precious, valuable. It is my responsibility to keep it that way, so any partner who I devote any of my precious time to needs to understand and value my commitment to my work."
Prioritizing professional development over partnership can actually have significant economic benefits for many single 20-something women too. A report from the National Marriage Project found that college-educated women who stayed unmarried throughout their 20s earned more than $18,000 annually, on average, than those who married before turning 30.
2. We're busy racking up advanced degrees.
In addition to comprising a massive sector of today's labor force, millennial women are also more likely to have received a bachelor's degree than women of any previous generation — and we're 6 percentage points more likely to have finished undergraduate degrees than our male contemporaries.
There's also a higher proportion of young women pursuing advanced degrees than young men, according to a Status of Women in the States report. These women might be more likely to prioritize grad school over having a partner (specifically if that partner is a guy who just doesn't measure up in terms of educational achievement).
"I went to grad school and am still kind of getting my footing career-wise, so I think I've also avoided looking for a relationship because I want to be more settled in my career first," Jaime, 30, told Mic. "I wouldn't necessarily want to date the male version of me — someone who doesn't have their job life in order. So I don't feel right being out there trying to date someone when I just don't feel like I have things more in order and settled."
3. We have obscene student loan debt — and we don't want to deal with anybody else's.
Money problems can ruin a relationship. And boy, do we have some serious money problems plaguing our generation. In addition to coming of age during an economic recession, all that higher education we've been paying for will cost us dearly over the years.
Recently, the class of 2015 officially became the college graduates with the most student loan debt in history. When figuring out whether to get serious with a partner, the cost of companionship matters.
"Despite making very little money, I am extremely responsible with my own finances, and am steadily paying back my student loans and saving for retirement," Megan said. "If my partner has a ton of student loans, that would make me pause, and if my partner is horrific with handling money, I definitely don't want to partner with them."
Even for women who do want committed partners, student debt and other financial concerns can also deter them from tying the knot. As Tumblr user viitsima put it, "marriages are ridiculously expensive, and so are divorce lawyers."
4. We aren't particularly religious.
A Pew Research Center survey found that today's youngest generation of adults is significantly less likely to align with a particular religious group than older generations, with an increasing number of millennials identifying as religious "nones." That means that young women are not only opting out of traditional religious affiliation, but also actively labeling themselves agnostic, atheist or just not super interested in spirituality.
Sociological researchers suspect millennials' general disinterest in religion is one of the key factors driving down marriage rates, but it might also contribute to the growing comfort young women feel leading their own single lives. After all, without adopting certain religious principles that place a man at the head of the household, it's probably easier to feel secure being the showrunner of your own life.
5. We haven't met "the right person."
Despite millennials' general aversion to marriage, monogamy is still idealized in many circles — and it's not something to be taken lightly. While our generation is open to open relationships, sexual fluidity and having multiple partners over a lifetime, we still want those connections to count.
"I think I will be totally happy and fulfilled as a nonmarried person, with or without a partner, and I want the freedom to create and live my own life how I want to," Rebecca, 24, told Mic. "I would consider marrying if I met someone with similar enough interests and personalities that I wouldn't have to compromise too much of what I wanted to be with them."
Megan agreed. "I would rather stay single for the rest of my life than marry another person who doesn't stand with me on equal footing," she told Mic. "That's also not an easy thing to find."
6. We're working on being better people.
Being single can also help millennial women become more socially conscious, all-around better people. A recent study found that single people were more likely to have active social lives, as well as a greater tendency to offer help to friends, family and their communities. Which kinda makes sense: After all, you probably have a lot more time to volunteer at your favorite charity organization if you're not spending all of it catching up on Empire with your partner.
7. We want to have sex. Like, a lot.
If you're in a relationship, you don't have much access to the endless buffet of carnal delights that is being a single 20-something female. (And by "buffet of carnal delights," we mean "sleeping with a lot of guys who only kinda know where the clitoris is," but no matter.) A number of women polled by Mic cited having sexual freedom as a reason for staying single, with one respondent simply writing she wanted to say single so she could have "sexual encounters with men of influence."
Lindsey, 21, put it a bit more delicately: "I want to be able to have freedom to explore my sexuality and the world and I am way too young to think about having to give that up for someone who doesn't want to agree with my choices."
jenny[6:26 PM"I want to be able to have freedom to explore my sexuality and the world and I am way too young to think about having to give that up for someone who doesn't want to agree with my choices. If marriage becomes an option for me, it probably will not be until I am 40 and want to give up my ability to make all my decisions on my own."
8. Being single can actually be awesome.
Ultimately, the best reason for being single is, well... being single. Staying unmoored from a committed relationship allows young women to do pretty much whatever they want. That could mean living with their friends or living alone; traveling for work or for play or for months at a time; dating and having lots of sex, swearing off swipe apps and buying a fancy vibrator instead; or eating gigantic Tex-Mex dinners and then falling asleep in the middle of the bed.
"Being single right now is more about having the freedom to build my own life without having to factor another person into those decisions," Allyson*, 24, told Mic. "If I meet someone who I like and works with the life I have now, great. If I don't, OK. My priority is building a life for myself, and I need to do that first."
* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.