I recently saw a stat that surprised me in the TIME article, “Living Alone is the New Norm.” Latest 2011 U.S. Census data tell us that 28% of Americans live alone. That number means they are now “tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type.” The meaning of “Childless” here includes …..any home that does not have kids, e.g., childfree, childless not by choice, empty nesters, elders, roommates, etc. Is it a bad thing that there are so many people living alone? Some experts like Harvard psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz think that “increased aloneness” and trends of greater social isolation are damaging people’s health and happiness in the U.S.
Others say there is little evidence the rise in living alone is making Americans more lonely. “Reams” of research tell us that it’s the “quality, not the quantity of social interactions that best predicts loneliness.” As social neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo says in his book, Loneliness, what matters is “not whether we live alone but whether we feel alone.“
Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, and author of Going Solo: the Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, did over 300 interviews with people who live alone, and studied the research literature, and he thinks that “most singletons are not lonely souls.” In fact, they enjoy a “thriving public culture.”
Klinenberg also thinks that living alone serves a purpose–it helps us pursue sacred modern values: individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization.
When I read this, it hit me that these same things are reasons why people decide to have no children. Many, many childfree value their freedom. Lots like to feel in control of their lives. Any many value personal development and growth, and feel raising children would prevent them from making this a priority in their lives.
Living alone, Klinenberg says, also gives us time and space for “restorative solitude.” In response to the February On-the-Ground question about how being childfree has had positive impacts on people’s lives, many spoke to how it gives them solo time they need and love.
Klinenberg also thinks that living alone can help people discover what gives them meaning and purpose. And so does being childfree. We know that parenthood is not our path to purpose, and we find it in a myriad of other ways..while living alone…or not.
Have you ever lived alone? What was your experience? Do you agree more with Olds and Schwartz, or Cacioppo and Klinenberg?