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Living alone in the age of post-familialism

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Apartment buildings
Apartment buildings in Manhattan, photographed in July 2006.
Photo by Ard Hesselink via Flickr

More Americans are living alone than ever before -- 28 percent of all U.S. households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of people living alone is even greater in big cities (35 to 45 percent) and the rate is even higher than that in comparable European cities.

As recently as 1950, less than 10 percent of households were made up of people living alone. Sociologist Eric Klineberg outlined the factors behind this trend for Smithsonian Magazine:

1) The rise of women
"Women's massive entry into the labor force during the last half century has meant that more and more women can delay marriage, support themselves, leave a marriage that's not working for them, and even buy their own home, which is a big trend in the real estate market. Marriage is just not economically necessary for women anymore, and that wasn't true 50 or 60 years ago."

2) Communications revolution
"Today, living alone is not a solitary experience. You can be at home, on your couch, talking on the telephone, or instant messaging, or doing email, or many, many things that we do at home to stay connected. And that certainly was not as easy to do before the 1950s."

3) Urbanization
"Cities support a kind of subculture of single people who live on their own but want to be out in public with each other. In fact there are neighborhoods in cities throughout this country where single people go to live alone, together, if that makes sense. They can be together living alone. That helps to make being single a much more collective experience."

4) The longevity revolution
"People are living longer than ever before. But it's been an uneven revolution, with women living longer than men, most of the time, and often one spouse outlives the other by 5, 10, 20 years or more, which means that there's a big part of life--the last decades of life--when it's become quite common for people to age alone."

This shift to living alone also brings with it a new social model. Joel Kotkin writes in New Geography, "Increasingly, family no longer serves as the central organizing feature of society...Traditional values have almost without exception been rooted in kinship relations. The new emerging social ethos endorses more secular values that prioritise individual personal socioeconomic success as well as the personal quest for greater fulfillment."

Kotkin and Klineberg join The Daily Circuit Tuesday, Feb. 5 to discuss the causes and implications of this cultural shift.


Eric Klinenberg on Going Solo (Smithsonian Magazine)

The rise of post-familialism: Humanity's future? (Kotkin in New Geography)

Solo nation: American consumers stay single (CNN)

Eric Klineberg on PBS NewsHour: