Think you know what it means to live alone? Even if you are have your own personal experiences living solo, and know lots of other people who do, too, chances are that you have been misled by the media and other myth-makers about what solo life is really like.
The most significant, intensive, and far-reaching study of solo living is described in Eric Klinenberg’s book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Due out tomorrow (February 2, 2012), it is a thoughtful and engaging book, and I highly recommend that you read every word. Here, I’ve plucked out just a dozen of the many revelations about solo living that you can find in the book. Enjoy!
- In the United States, there are fewer households comprised of mom, dad, and the kids than of single people living on their own. About 31 million Americans live alone.
- Have you heard the one about how single people need to “settle down”? Well, singles living solo are already settled. Follow them, and people in other households types, over a five year period and you will find that the solo-dwellers are one of the most stable types.
- Do you think that living solo is mostly for the very young adults and the very old (typically women who have outlived their husbands)? Wrong on both counts. The majority of people living on their own are between the ages of 35 and 65.
- The percentage of single-person households in the U.S. is high. But the 28% figure is far outpaced by the 40 to 45% of single-person households in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. In Stockholm, almost two-thirds of all households consist of just one person.
- Living alone is not the same as feeling alone or isolated. In fact, “cities with high numbers of singletons enjoy a thriving public culture” (p. 18). If you live solo in a city and want to be with other people, often you can just walk out the door.
- Does all of the media hype have you believing that young adults are moving back to their parents’ homes in droves? That’s not quite true either. For adults between the ages of 25 and 34, there has been an increase of a few percentage points, since 1960, of those living with their parents. Considering just those who are in their 20s, though, “a much smaller percentage of single Americans in their twenties live with their parents today than at any time in the past” (p. 31, quoting Michael Rosenfeld).
- Although people who live alone often value solitude, the rise of solo living did not actually grow out of transcendental or monastic traditions. Instead, the culture and popularity of city living is the more significant factor.
- Most old people who live alone do not do so because they have no grown children or anyone else who cares about them. It is their preference.
- Solo dwellers are not just renters. Increasingly, they are buying homes of their own. “In the 1950s, real estate agents would have been surprised to see a single female client in their office; now it’s surprising if they don’t” (p. 75).
- Holed up with your cat? Maybe. But people who live in couples or families are actually more likely to have a pet than people who live alone.
- A few years ago, a bash-the-solo-dwellers story rippled through the media. The claim was that people living solo are taking up more resources per person than those who live in nuclear family homes. That can happen, but “Manhattan, the capital of American singleton society, is also the nation’s greenest city.” How can that be? Consider that “a family of four with two cars, long commutes, and a 2,500 square-foot house in the suburbs will leave a greater carbon footprint than four individual city dwellers who live in compact apartments and use public transportation (or, better, walk) to reach work” (p. 207).
- Living alone is a norm and not an oddity, and that’s something new in the world. “Today our species has about 200,000 years of experience with collective living, and only about fifty or sixty years with our experiment in going solo” (p. 185).
Woman eating in kitchen photo available from Shutterstock.