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Particularly for college graduates, this delay in marriage has ushered in a new phase of life that sociologists are calling “emerging adulthood” or, less charitably, “delayed adolescence.” This is a time when people focus on their careers and their own personal fulfillment, sociologists say: They go out to dinner, work late hours, and make close groups of friends that are sometimes dubbed “urban tribes.” And while there has been some hand-wringing about this, with worries about a lack of maturity among young American adults today, a number of scholars who study singles point out that this group is the antidote to another point of cultural anxiety: the decline in community.

College-educated singles are moving into old downtown buildings and spending money in revitalizing urban centers.

Four in 10 Americans went ever further, telling Pew researchers in 2010 that marriage was becoming obsolete.

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.

And the number of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high, around 20 percent.

Meanwhile, only 30 percent of Millennials say that having a successful marriage is “one of the most important things” in life, according to the Pew Research Center, down from even the 47 percent of Generation X who said the same thing in 1997.

In cities from Denver to Detroit to Boston, they are joining everything from kickball leagues to museum boards, neighborhood associations to volunteer organizations.

“People who live alone don’t want to be alone or isolated,” Mr. “So they spend an enormous time out in public.”It’s a point that University of California, Santa Barbara professor Bella De Paulo has been trying to make for a long time. De Paulo, who is happily single, debunks what she says are myths related to the country’s “matrimania.” Her research has found that contrary to conventional wisdom (and a number of studies) married people are no more happy and healthy as a group than their single counterparts.

• • •There is little debate that American adults are far less likely to be married than they were two generations ago.

In 1950, married couples represented 78 percent of households in the United States.

“You can be single in Boston and nobody really cares.

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