The rise of the singleton society


First aired on The Sunday Edition (26/03/12)

There used to be a harsh stigma attached to living alone as an adult. From knitting spinsters to eccentric bachelors to crazy cat-ladies, the popular image of the singleton was not particularly flattering.

In the 1950s, a national survey commissioned by U.S. psychologists found that 80 per cent of the adults questioned believed that people who wanted to be single had some kind of illness, neurosis, or other flaw. Being married and living with family was the norm.

Times have changed. Now, nearly 33 million people in the United States live alone (28 per cent of all households), and the country has become something of a singleton society, according to sociology professor Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

So what happened? Klinenberg says that this major demographic shift has happened because views about divorce and separation have softened.

"Our attitudes have changed significantly in part because we believe these days that marriage works well when it helps each of us as individuals feel content or fulfilled or develop," Klinenberg said during a recent interview with The Sunday Edition. "It used to be that if you were in a marriage that wasn't working, you had to justify getting out of it to your friends and family. These days, if you're in a marriage that's not working, you have to justify staying in it. So our ideals have really changed."

In addition to there being more middle-aged adults choosing the single life, Klinenberg has found that widowed seniors are living independently, despite the fact that housing has become more expensive than ever.

"Sixty years ago, or certainly 100 years ago, the overwhelming majority [of widows and widowers] would move in with family members or possibly friends. What's different today is that after they lose a spouse, they have a choice to go solo, and an enormous number of them are doing it. In fact, we interviewed more than 100 older people who are living alone, the great majority of whom had been married before, and they said that their sense of dignity and integrity really rested on their capacity to maintain a place of their own. The last thing they wanted to do was to move in with some other people — not their children, not their friends and especially not some kind of nursing home."

going-solo-175.jpgGoing Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

by Eric Klinenberg

From the publisher: 

"Renowned sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg explores the dramatic rise of solo living and examines the seismic impact it's having on our culture, business, and politics. Conventional wisdom tells us that living by oneself leads to loneliness and isolation, but, as Klinenberg shows, most solo dwellers are deeply engaged in social and civic life. In fact, compared with their married counterparts, they are more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lectures, and volunteer. There's even evidence that people who live alone enjoy better mental health than unmarried people who live with others and have more environmentally sustainable lifestyles than families, since they favor urban apartments over large suburban homes..."

Read more at Penguin Books.