Can we sell boats to singles?

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Are we now a nation of singletons? Well, if you are an American, odds are that you’re single and you’re in the majority.

I flew to Cleveland last weekend for the wedding of a good friend’s son. I never thought of it during the ceremony, but I realized while web-surfing at 36,000 feet (isn’t Wi-Fi in planes great?) that the newlyweds had just become a minority. Somewhere over Tennessee, as I looked down at some big lakes, I began wondering if we’re trying to sell boats to singles? Do we promote boating to singles? Do we even think singles are a target market?

A surprising fact is more than half of American adults are not married today. That’s up from 37.4 percent in 1976, according to economist Dr. Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research. Specifically, 124.6 million single Americans are out there who are 16 years or older, according to data used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly job-market report. It’s also the first time singles have become the majority since the government began compiling such statistics nearly 40 years ago.

An interesting question, then, is whether it represents a target market for boating, a recreation we heavily promote as the great “family sport,” and it raises some interesting overall considerations.

For example, there are certain economic benefits to being single. A single person is less likely to have children or own a home with a mortgage. He or she is more likely to be able to move fast and change jobs, making the labor market dynamic and finding bigger salaries. Moreover, singles without the need to support a family are more likely to take risks, engage in entrepreneurship and increase spending more easily.

In addition, singles are more likely to rent than own their dwellings, particularly younger ones, says Yardeni. Never-married young singles are less likely to have children. And, a very big segment, the previously married older singles, many of whom have adult children, are unlikely to have young kids. It obviously means fewer parents and homeowners and that will influence how much money they spend and what they buy.

Anyone unmarried counts as single in Yardeni’s assessment. Notably, the potential economic benefits of being single only confer to a specific type of single: someone who lives alone. Some married people live alone while many unmarried people live with their partners or children. A large share of the increase in singleness comes from more people living alone, but it’s also become more common for unmarried partners to live together.

Whether this is good or bad depends on how you look at it. Single people can be more flexible, which means fewer economic distortions and a more dynamic labor market. On the other hand, it might make the economy riskier. For example, a single has only his or her income and health insurance upon which to rely. That makes the impact of a job loss or an injury much greater than for a married person. Or, while a single has the freedom to increase his or her own spending, there is less “family cushion” when things go badly and spending has to be cut.

Finally, it begs a question: Is marriage outdated? On the one hand, 67 percent of Americans say no, according to the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. On the other, it leaves an apparent one-third of Americans who must think it is. That’s a big number.

So boating is the choice outdoor recreation that gets kids off the video games and brings families together for a great time. And boating is also a great activity for singles that brings friends together for good times in the great outdoors. Perhaps it’s time to spread that latter message, too.


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