Not so long ago those living alone were thought of as a ‘little bit strange’, inclined towards hermithood and spinsterism. After all humans are social creatures, design to thrive in communities and have been living communally for thousands of years. It seems this is changing, and changing rapidly.
According to researches, the number of people living alone increased by almost a third in ten years, between 1996 and 2006, and keeps on rising.
Most people live alone in Scandinavia where one-person households account for 40 to 45% of the total. In Sweden’s largest city Stockholm; 60% of all houses are occupied by one person. The proportion of single households is also very high in Germany, France, the UK, Canada and Australia, while in Japan 30% of households has one dweller. The number of Americans living alone has risen from only 9% in 1950 to current 26%. Although there is a very little, or no data for New Zealand, there are indications that trend of living alone is raising predominantly because of aging population.
Apart from aging, other contributors to the single-occupant households are; increase in divorces, separations, and to some extent rise in wealth that enables solo-dwellers to meet their own cost of living. In addition, there is a change in perception; we all know few man and woman who are proud of their solo-living status and independence. Most women living alone in Western societies today are celebrated as free spirits, as opposed to frown upon as spinsters some 50 years ago.
It is not then surprising to learn that a prominent American sociologist, Eric Klinenberg describes this trend as; ‘the biggest social change of the last 50 years that we’ve failed to name and we’ve hardly begun to plan for.’
In his latest book; ‘Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone’, Klinenberg writes engagingly about this phenomenon. Not only we are able to afford living alone, but we also seem to prefer it. Modern cities have been designed, and organized to cater for solo-dwellers who are far more likely to go out to restaurants and entertainment venues than those living in family situations, or other multi-people household.
This is not only because solo-dwellers have more disposable income when compared to those raising family, but also because solo-dwellers naturally seek more interactions outside home. Once they satisfy the need for social interaction, they return home to relax in undisturbed peace.
Technology has a role to play too. Proliferation of social media, such as Facebook and similar, enabled people to develop and maintain social connections, exchange views, and access emotional support. Blogging has a similar affect.
While in his book Klinenberg documents cases of those who found
living alone hard, isolating, and lonely, those cases are by far minority. Majority of those living alone are happier, healthier, and more socially active than those living in multi-people households.
Notably, Klinenberg makes a clear distinction between those living alone, being alone and feeling lonely. It transpires that people, who live alone, do not feel lonely or alone. They simply live their lives on their own terms and interact socially when and how they choose.
Does that mean that future households will be occupied by single occupants?
Not according to Kleinberg. While increasing number of one-person household’s will certainly require some careful planning around welfare, care for sick and frail, type of dwellings built, and similar, humans will always need each other’s. The social fabric is definitely changing and independent living is both; affordable and desirable to many people, but we still remain interdependent only in different way than we once were.
What do you think? Do you live alone and have a great time, or not so much? Would you like to live alone?