Of all the trends we keep an eye on, this one hits closest to home: more and more people are choosing to live alone for longer periods of time. Currently, a quarter of all households in the US is comprised of someone living alone, and in Manhattan it’s as high as 50%. This is also an international trend, with developed countries like Britain, Canada, Germany, France, and Japan seeing similar numbers. This is clearly a shift from traditional living patterns, in which people married younger and rarely lived alone, to a new “Singleton” lifestyle.
And this isn’t just some minor shift in the amount of people crammed into an apartment or living space; it is a deep-seated change in how human beings interact and develop socially. NYU sociology professor Eric Klinenberg’s new book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone explores exactly what this change means. For example, the singleton life is no longer a retreat for eccentrics and monastics, looking to escape all social contact and retreat to an entirely private place. The expansion of public places like bars, coffee shops, and restaurants means no one is ever far from the company of others. Even within the home, the explosive growth of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and communication devices like cell phones, texting, and Skype means when one is living alone, it is never difficult to invite others in. As a Slate article on the book points out, “Klinenberg convincingly argues that the convergence of mass urbanization, communications technology, and liberalized attitudes has driven this trend.”
With the huge growth of people living alone, and finally becoming more recognized as a distinct unit through various cultural outlets, the singleton demographic is poised to become a major driver of economic and social trends. For example, singletons are a big reason for the growth and reanimation of central city space and the general rise of urbanism, as those who live alone are more likely to make use of public places and commercial social spots. Personalization options for everything from one’s computer and cell phone to their education and shopping experiences shows a new emphasis on the individual, encouraging more empowerment and self-sufficiency. This extends both to and form these people living alone.
Klinenberg argues one of the reasons this emerging demographic has been largely ignored up to this point is due to it not being recognized as a “social identity.” People rarely call themselves “singletons” or define themselves by how they live alone, but this is changing as more and more people enter this living situation as a new normal. The huge numbers and “new” identity of this demographic makes them crucial when considering any proposition for the future. Even with the economy struggling, and financial experts predicting more situations of roommates and young people living at home, the rate of single livers has only increased. The singleton lifestyle is not just a sign of the times, but a sign of things to come.