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Studio (source)

One of the major lifestyle changes of the twentieth century was the dramatic increase in the proportion of Americans who lived alone. [1] Virtually outlawed in Early America, rarely done in the early twentieth century, it became a stage of life for many Americans, especially for elderly women, by the end of the century. (In 2000, about one-third of American women 65 and older were living alone.) The question of whether this trend is a good or bad thing has been a matter of concern. Eric Klinenberg’s recent best-seller, Going Solo, conveys the positive side of the discussion (see also this earlier post).

Another side of the discussion is trying to make sense of why Americans increasingly chose to live alone. Is it because Americans became increasingly disaffected with family or because Americans became increasingly able to afford their own living spaces? The recent economic shocks we have gone through provide a way to contrast people’s “tastes” for solo living versus their budgets for solo living.

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Alone or Lonely?

It is common to read that the percentage of Americans who live by themselves has increased substantially over the last few decades. It is often the first or second observation in an essay arguing – assuming – that Americans have become more isolated and lonely.

Klearchos Kapoutsis via flickr

But there are substantial misunderstandings about who lives alone, why they live alone, and what kind of social life those living alone lead. Some types of people who live alone are actually more social than those who share a household.

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