Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Going Solo" is Not the Wave of the Future

Eric Klinenberg, an NYU sociologist, has generated some interest with Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. He starts with the fact that about a quarter of American households today are made up of one person - more than the number of married-with-children households.

Klinenberg does treat the mostly sad cases of poor people living alone, especially the frail elderly.  But his real interest is in the young and financially secure solo living group, who make New York their capital.

Klinenberg shows that living alone and loving it is a growing fraction of the urban population in developed societies, which is true.  He argues that solo living will become the prevailing form of life, especially if a Swedish-style welfare state subsidizes it. He particularly argues that proponents of marriage are fighting a rear-guard action for an anachronistic idea of togetherness.  This, I contend, is not true.  It is certainly not proven by his cases.

Most young singles, including the young divorced, are looking to marry, as his own evidence shows.  Even Exhibit A, the founder of the blog Quirkyalone Sasha Cagen, says that as she gets into her late thirties she, too, is ready to settle down and would like to find a husband.

Most of the old singles are widows who lived out their marriages until death them did part.  The fact that they are living alone is not proof that marriage is an anachronism, but that we are a very rich society who can support the old in their own homes. In fact, those who stay married are more likely to have the resources to maintain independent living in their widow or widowerhood.

Going Solo is more of a life stage than a lifestyle.


Kerri said...

I agree. I live alone now, and while I would rather live alone than with random strange people, I miss my partner every day and I was a happier, healthier person for sharing my life with him. I can't wait to share a space with him again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Gruntled, I have to wonder if you can understand that for some people, "living alone" is completely natural and allows the person to thrive. If people prefer to live with others, I say, nothing's stopping you. But living alone is just as valid. I don't need a live-in relationship to have meaning in my life. Sorry to burst this blog's bubble.

gruntled said...

The first rule of sociology is that we make generalizations about groups which do not necessarily apply to each individual in the group. We have no problem acknowledging that some people are well served by living alone. In a free society, this is their free choice, and more power to them. My argument is with Klinenberg's contention that this will be, or perhaps already is, true for the majority.

MMMSecret said...

I think key to really analyzing the growing number of people living alone is understanding the gap between number of people who would like to get married and the number of people who do.

As a well educated single woman it is apparent to me that there are a growing number of other single well educated women around me who cannot find male peers to date and/or marry. In a society that still sees men as bread winners, men are reluctant to "marry up" when it comes to earnings and education, similarly women are reluctant to "marry down" in the areas. This means as women achieve more professionally they find it harder to meet eligible men. Additionally, they find they have the monetary freedom to live and even start families alone. Until our society changes its ideas about masculinity in marriage, this trend is unlikely to change and we will see more and more people foregoing marriage, not necessarily by choice, but by function of societital ideals that haven't caught up to modern society.

(Just my non-sociological unexpert opinion)