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He spoke with Joseph Stromberg. How did you first get involved in researching this topic? My first book was about a heat wave in Chicago where more than people died, in , and when I was doing research on the book I learned that one reason so many people died, and also died alone during that disaster, is that so many people were living alone in Chicago everyday. And during the research for that book, I got to spend some time learning about the rise of living alone, and specifically aging alone.
And I got interested in the phenomenon, and concerned about the social problem of being alone and also isolated. So when I finished, I started thinking about a next project that would continue the theme, and I got funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to do a bigger follow up study on living alone and social isolation in American life.
When I got deeper into the research, I realized that, in fact, only a small number of people who are living alone are actually isolated, or lonely, and that I was really only looking at a very narrow part of the story.
I came to see it as a social experiment, because what I learned, surprisingly, is that until about the s, there was no society in the history of our species that supported large numbers of people living alone. Since then, living alone has become incredibly common, throughout the developed world. Wherever there is affluence, and a welfare state, people use their resources to get places of their own. How prevalent is living alone in America today? And back then, it was most common in the sprawling Western states, like Alaska, and Montana, and Nevada, because single migrant men went there.
Today, there are more than 32 million people living alone—according to the latest census estimates, This is an enormous change. In Manhattan, where I live, about 1 of every 2 households is a one-person household. And it would be quite literally unbelievable were it not for the fact that those rates are even lower than the rates of living alone that we see in comparable European cities.
What do you think accounts for that? So we do talk about that. But, typically, I think Americans are quite anxious about isolation.
We believe in self-reliance, but we also long for community. You argue that the widespread assumption that living alone is a negative trend is flawed.
What are some benefits you've noticed for people living alone? Well, one thing is that we need to make a distinction between living alone and being alone, or being isolated, or feeling lonely. These are all different things. In fact, people who live alone tend to spend more time socializing with friends and neighbors than people who are married. So one thing I learned is that living alone is not an entirely solitary experience.
The next thing, I would say, is that we live today in a culture of hyperconnection, or overconnection. So in a moment like this, living alone is one way to get a kind of restorative solitude, a solitude that can be productive, because your home can be an oasis from the constant chatter and overwhelming stimulation of the digital urban existence. Certainly, the people we interviewed said that having a place of their own allowed them to decompress, and not everyone can do that. What factors are driving this trend?
I would say that the four key drivers that I identified were, first, the rise of women. The next thing is the 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 s.
The third thing is urbanization, because 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. Finally, the longevity revolution means that today, people are living longer than ever before.
So I think one of the things I want to do in this book is help to name and identify and understand this social change that has touched all of us. Since the trend is often thought of as a private matter, you argue that its impact on civic life and politics is overlooked.
What are some of its effects in the public sphere? In the book I argue that the spike of living alone has played a large and overlooked role in revitalizing cities, because singletons are so likely to go out in the world, to be in cafes and restaurants, to volunteer in civic organizations, to attend lectures and concerts, to spend time in parks and other public spaces.
They have played a big role in reanimating central cities. People who study cities tend to believe that the way to revitalize cities is to create a better supply of public spaces and amenities. The book focuses mostly on cities. What is happening in rural places? People live alone in rural areas as well.
Living alone in a rural area can be much tougher than in a city, and the risks of isolation are greater. For now, it remains a kind of minority, or rare, phenomenon. Although the book focused on America, it did allude to this trend in other countries as well. What's happening around the world? The fastest-rising places are India, China, and Brazil, in terms of the rate of increase. And the places that have, by far, the most people living alone, are the Scandinavian countries. Do you have any thoughts on where this trend might be going?
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America: Single, and Loving It
Look Inside. With eye-opening statistics, original data, and vivid portraits of people who live alone, renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg upends conventional wisdom to deliver the definitive take on how the rise of going solo is transforming the American experience. Klinenberg shows that most single dwellers—whether in their twenties or eighties—are deeply engaged in social and civic life. Drawing on more than three hundred in-depth interviews, Klinenberg presents a revelatory examination of the most significant demographic shift since the baby boom and offers surprising insights on the benefits of this epochal change. A revelatory examination of the most significant demographic shift since the Baby Boom—the sharp increase in the number of people who live alone—that offers surprising insights on the benefits of this epochal change In , only 22 percent of American adults were single.
Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg - review
The trend is huge, says Eric Klinenberg, the N. Now that number is almost 50 percent. One in seven adults lives alone. Half of all Manhattan residences are one-person dwellings. No, I agree with God on that one. My point is that we need to make a distinction between living alone and being alone. My point is that, unlike 50 years ago, today we cycle in and out of different living arrangements: we live alone, then we live with a partner, we live alone again, we shack up with someone again.
T he way Eric Klinenberg perceives the interviewees for his book on living alone, you really wouldn't want to be one of them. Nicky's voice is "soft and a bit squeaky". Kimberley from New York has "a sweet but somewhat sinister smile", while Ella "is brazen and brilliant, with muscular arms". Frankly, it is amazing Dr Klinenberg got out alive. And what Klinenberg found surprised him.