|I want to be alone: the rise and rise of solo living|
|Friday, 20 April 2012|
Human societies, at all times and places, have organised themselves around the will to live with others, not alone. But not any more. The number of people living alone has skyrocketed. What is driving the phenomenon?
During the past half-century, our species has embarked on a remarkable social experiment. For the first time in human history, great numbers of people – at all ages, in all places, of every political persuasion – have begun settling down as singletons.
Until the second half of the last century, most of us married young and parted only at death. If death came early, we remarried quickly; if late, we moved in with family, or they with us. Now we marry later. We divorce, and stay single for years or decades. We survive our spouses, and do everything we can to avoid moving in with others – including our children. We cycle in and out of different living arrangements: alone, together, together, alone.
Numbers never tell the whole story, but in this case the statistics are startling. According to the market research firm Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone globally is skyrocketing, rising from about 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011 – an increase of around 80% in 15 years. In the UK, 34% of households have one person living in them and in the US it's 27%.
Contemporary solo dwellers in the US are primarily women: about 18 million, compared with 14 million men. The majority, more than 16 million, are middle-aged adults between the ages of 35 and 64. The elderly account for about 11 million of the total. Young adults between 18 and 34 number more than 5 million, compared with 500 000 in 1950, making them the fastest-growing segment of the solo-dwelling population. Unlike their predecessors, people who live alone today cluster together in metropolitan areas.
Sweden has more solo dwellers than anywhere else in the world, with 47% of households having one resident; followed by Norway at 40%. In Scandinavian countries their welfare states protect most citizens from the more difficult aspects of living alone.
In Japan, where social life has historically been organised around the family, about 30% of all households have a single dweller, and the rate is far higher in urban areas.
The Netherlands and Germany share a greater proportion of one-person households than the UK. And the nations with the fastest growth in one-person households? China, India and Brazil.
But despite the worldwide prevalence, living alone isn't really discussed, or understood. We aspire to get our own places as young adults, but fret about whether it's all right to stay that way, even if we enjoy it. We worry about friends and family members who haven't found the right match, even if they insist that they're OK on their own. We struggle to support elderly parents and grandparents who find themselves living alone after losing a spouse, but we are puzzled if they tell us they prefer to remain alone.
In all of these situations, living alone is something that each person, or family, experiences as the most private of matters, when in fact it is an increasingly common condition.....
The Guardian: Read the full article