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  • [Demography/Happiness]

    Too Much Gender, Too Little Sex

    By Global Trends Editor Group

    According to the most recent data from the General Social Survey, we’re at a 30-year low for sex. In fact, twenty-six percent of Americans ages 18 and up reported not having sex even once over the prior 12 months. And this was not just another side-effect of the pandemic; it’s part of a long-term trend.

    The two years with the next-highest percentage of adults saying they didn’t have sex even once in the past year were 2016 and 2018, the most recent previous times when the survey was conducted; both were at 23%. That’s significant when you consider that prior to 2004, the highest percentage of Americans who said they hadn’t had sex in the past year was 19%.

    The 2021 survey was also the first time that the percentage of Americans who had sex once a month or less topped 50%. By comparison, just 35% of American adults had sex once a month or less, in 1989.

    Some of this has to do with fewer people getting married and an aging population. However, that doesn’t explain all of it. Among married couples under the age of 60, 26% had sex once a month or less in 2021. In 1989, that number was just 12%. That implies that the 1980s were better for sex than the 21st century.

    And it’s not just about sex. In 1990, 71% of couples lived together, with 67% married and 4% cohabitating. That’s well above the 62% of Americans ages 25 to 54 now living with a partner, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center study. This number included 53% who were married and 9% who were cohabitating.

    Feminists may assume that the growing share of unmarried people living without a spouse is due to rising educational levels among women eliminating the need for financial support from a man.

    However, the statistics tell a different story. Better educated people and higher wage earners are the most likely to live with a partner or be married. According to Pew’s research, a lot of people won’t get married if they don’t think it’s financially feasible.

    Some may hypothesize that people are still in relationships, but they don’t want to be tied down by either living together or being married. This may be true at the margins, but statistics suggest that this is not a major factor.

    The General Social Survey has, on and off since 1986, asked participants whether they had a steady partner. This past year, 30% of adults ages 25 to 54 (the same age bracket as the Pew study) indicated that they did not have a steady partner. In 1986, that number was 20%.
    In fact, the percentage of 25-to-54-year-olds who said they didn’t have a steady partner never topped 23% prior to the 2010s. Yet it’s been 25% or above in every survey since.

    Interestingly, as the population ages and more Baby Boomers have gotten above the age of 55, the percentage of older folks in a relationship has stayed fairly steady – in the mid-to-high 60s on average.

    That means the trend toward “singledom” is more about young people than older people. And it’s the same with sex! The percentage of those aged 55 and older not having any sex in the last year is 40%, which is about the same as it was 30 years ago.

    The implications of these lifestyle trends are significant.

    In 2018, happiness among young adults in the United States fell to a record low. The share of those adults ages 18-to-34 reporting that they were “very happy” fell to 25 percent.

    That’s the lowest level that the General Social Survey has ever recorded for that age group. Happiness fell most among young men - with only 22 percent of young men (and 28 percent of young women) reporting that they were “very happy” in 2018.

    At the time, researchers W. Bradford Wilcox and Lymon Stone of the American Enterprise Institute examined this trend to determine which behaviors, including sex, contributed to the decline in happiness.

    They found that young adults who have sex at least once a week are about 35 percent more likely to report that they are very happy, compared with their peers who have no sex. And they found that the share of young adults having sex at least once a week had fallen from 59 percent in 1972 to 49 percent in 2018.

    This decline was far steeper among men: down from 58 percent of young men having sex at least weekly in 2010 to just 43 percent in 2018. And the share of young adults reporting no sex in the past year had risen as well; it was at 22 percent for young men and 14 percent for young women in 2018.

    This trend of “rising sexlessness” was broadly confirmed in other surveys of sexual behavior, including the National Survey of Family Growth, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.

    Initial analysis showed that lower rates of religiosity, sexual frequency, marriage, and contact with friends, accounted for most of the declining happiness experienced by many young adults.

    To assess which of these factors might matter most, Wilcox and Stone built counterfactual models that showed what the path of happiness might have been had one or two of these variables been different.

    They allowed the happiness trends within a given group, such as “people who attend religious services 2-3 times per month” to follow their actual, historic paths; but for 2010 to 2018, they fixed each group’s population share to 2008 levels. This let them answer the question, “If happiness trends within demographic groups were the same, but the composition of the population across groups had not changed, what would happiness be today?”

    They conducted this exercise separately for population composition broken out by religiosity, sexual frequency, marital status, and contact with friends, to see how much of an effect that changes in behaviors across these four metrics of sociability might have mattered.

    This analysis revealed that changes in sexual frequency account for about one-third of the decline in happiness since 2012 and almost 100 percent of the decline in happiness since 2014. The bottom line: If Americans still had sex like they did in 2008, or even 2012, we might be a much happier country.

    Declines in marriage and religiosity have also played some role, but the effects are much smaller - with each factor only accounting for about one-tenth of the decline in happiness.

    And, but for the rise in regular contact with friends over those years, young men and women would be even less happy. In other words, prior to COVID, Americans were offsetting some of the lost community and companionship of spouses and churches with closer ties to friends. However, those friendships didn’t give young Americans the sex life that made previous generations happier.

    Clearly, the United States is in the midst of a “sex recession.” Nowhere has this sex recession proved more consequential than among young adults, especially young men. Before the 2018 data came out and was confirmed in 2021, the experts suggested that the decline in sex was modest. However, we can now see that this is not the case, and it’s not getting better.

    Given this trend, we offer the flowing forecasts for your consideration.

    First, the sex recession will continue to be one of the factors driving America’s demographic winter.

    There’s no escaping that the American birth rate has been falling for a decade. In 2020, the U.S. birth rate hit a record low. Most importantly, birth rates are declining among women in their 30s, the age at which everyone supposed more Millennials would start families.

    As a result, some 500,000 fewer American babies were born in 2017 than in 2007, even though more women were of prime childbearing age. Over the same period, the number of children the average American woman is expected to have fell from 2.1, the fertility level required to sustain population levels without immigration, to 1.78.

    If this trend does not reverse, the long-term demographic and fiscal implications will be significant as the supply of native-born workers and consumers will contract. Japan, Korea, China and much of the EU are already suffering the consequences.

    Notably, the probable impact of Demographic Winter already dwarfs the probable impact of climate change during the 21st century. The United States could fall into the same trap as the rest of the OECD and China, unless we act now.

    Second, the sex drought will continue impacting our national mental health if not corrected.

    Research shows that sexual activity is good for cognition and memory, as well as reducing depression and anxiety. In fact, sex is probably nature’s most effective mechanism for enhancing mental health. We can substitute drugs, but that’s likely to be a suboptimal solution. If the current trend continues, a whole generation will suffer.

    Third, by the mid-2030s, researchers will discover that heightened ambiguity related to gender has undermined the development of solid relationships.

    Since the dawn of mankind, nearly every culture as viewed gender as fixed. While this may have been oppressive to a small minority, it provided social clarity which enabled people to live well-defined lives in extended and nuclear families.

    We argue that rather than giving people the freedom to establish better relationships, the West’s recent obsession with fluid LGBTQ+ identities has created another level of uncertainty and anxiety, preventing individuals from developing meaningful relationships, and accruing all of the attendant benefits. And,

    Fourth, as America enters the “Golden Age” of the Fifth Techno-economic Revolution, several factors working against stable relationships will diminish.

    Marriage and other forms of “semi-permanent” relationships have greatly declined for the lower three quintiles of the American income distribution over the past 50 years.

    One of the biggest factors has been the inability of so many Americans to establish careers during the transition period which began after the bursting of the dot-com bubble. For instance, 78% of never-married women want a spouse with a “steady job.”

    But now, with rising real wages and unemployment rates at the lowest levels in more than two decades, this is becoming much less of a barrier. Just as the Greatest Generation built stable lives after the 18 disruptive years of the Great Depression and World War II, the Millennials will bounce back from the past 22 years of instability.

    Resource List
    1. The Spectator. February 13, 2023. Cockburn. T he New York Times would like you to have more sex, please.

    2. CNN. February 14, 2023. Harry Enten. Americans less likely to have sex, partner up and get married than ever.

    3. Vice.com April 23, 2021. Daisy Jones. Why Gen Zers Are Choosing Celibacy.

    4. Insider.com. Mar 26, 2021. Julia Naftulin. Young people are having less casual sex and spending more time scrolling on social media.

    5. Healthline.com. October 18, 2018. Pamela Rogers. The Health Benefits of Sex.

    6. Unherd.com. November 8, 2022. Kat Rosenfield. Demisexuals are scared of sex.

    7. Trends. June 2019. Trends Editors. The Great Millennial Happiness Crisis.