A seismic shift in how we live emerges from the pages of a new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, spent seven years conducting interviews that reveal a startling change: In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single, four million of them lived alone and they made up a paltry 9 percent of households. Today, by contrast, more than 50 percent of American adults are single, 31 million of them live alone and they make up a hefty 28 percent of households.
Are we becoming a nation of Greta (and Gert) Garbos?
“People who live alone,” writes Klinenberg in Going Solo, are now “more common than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, and the roommate or group home.” As a society, however, we seem to be in denial of this new reality: While some ignore it, others deplore it, branding it a symptom of social fragmentation or individual narcissism.
Going Solo challenges those stereotypes by letting singletons speak for themselves. “Having roommates feels sort of unadult,” said a man in his late 20s. “Work is very social,” a hard-charging magazine editor in her 30s told Klinenberg.
“I like the peace of coming home and not having to interact anymore, having a chance to decompress.” And for older people, living alone often spells deliverance after a lifetime of serving others. “I’m in charge,” commented a 90-year-old widow. “I can do whatever I want to do.”
In short, living alone bears no resemblance to the popular myths being circulated about it. Nine of the most prevalent misconceptions are listed below, each followed by a rebuttal.
1. People live alone as a last resort. On the contrary, Klinenberg told me: “People live alone whenever they can afford to. Even during the recent [economic] downturn, the number of people living alone went up.”