Jenice Armstrong | Marriage on the rocks?

I LIKE to stay current. You know, keep up with the times, in terms of the latest scientific advances and lifestyle trends.

When America, for instance, woke up to the health risks associated with saturated fats, I dutifully traded Big Macs for veggie burgers. Years ago, I tossed out my power suits in favor of business-casual slacks and sweaters. And when the reality-TV craze hit, it didn't take long for me to get hooked on "The Apprentice" and "American Idol."

But when I got married in 2005, little did I realize that by taking that life-altering step, I was doing something that's increasingly being viewed as countercultural. These days, being married is less the norm and more the exception to the rule.

Last week, the New York Times reported that for the first time, more American women are unmarried than are married. An estimated 51 percent of American women live without a spouse.

For African-Americans, the figures are even more dramatic. These days, less than a third - just 30 percent - of black women are married.

You could go on and on about the reasons why so many women are uncoupled. You could talk about women who delay marriage to advance their careers or those who hold it in such high esteem that they never bother to do it. You could point to the fact that so many couples choose to cohabitate. And you can note that after divorcing or being widowed, many women are choosing to stay single.

The bottom line, though, is that more women are choosing to be single. In 2000, 49 percent were unmarried and in 1950 only 35 percent were single.

"For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage," William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, told the Times.

"Younger women understand this better, and are preparing to live longer parts of their lives alone or with nonmarried partners. For many older boomer and senior women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for, growing up in an 'Ozzie and Harriet' era."

Of course, there are plenty of negative implications for what's happening - including the financial implications and the fact that too many children are growing up fatherless. Roughly 70 percent of African-American children are born to unmarried women. Studies show that children from such backgrounds fare less well in school and are more likely to drop out than those who are born to married women.

On the other hand, I applaud recent generations of women who've managed to redefine long-held societal attitudes toward being uncoupled. When's the last time you heard someone referred to as a "spinster"? That doesn't happen much any more. The stigma is gone.

These days, the notion of a single female of a certain age and income conjures up "Sex and the City"-style notions of a carefree, fun-loving lifestyle. Even if that cosmopolitan and designer shoe-fueled stereotype isn't accurate, it sure beats the old one which had poor, lonely singletons waiting for Prince Charming to finally come along and rescue them.

The Times' report shows that more women are buying into the notion that they don't need to be married. Without that pressure, hopefully, they'll make better choices once they do decide to marry - even if it's an old-fashioned choice. *

Have you peeped a hot trend that hasn't beeneported? E-mail and let me know what you know.