New report shows a rise in single person households and the media responds by reflecting our culture’s bias against singles, especially those who live alone.
In August, the Census Bureau came out with a report that has spurred a series of articles in news outlets across America. The report carried the shocking news that despite a lingering recession, more people than ever are choosing to live alone. Although the report covered many aspects of “America’s Families and Living Arrangements” (as the report was called), it was one particular element that snagged the most attention: “The proportion of one-person households increased by 10 percentage points between 1970 and 2012, from 17 percent to 27 percent.”
In response to the report I got a call from a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, who wanted to know my opinion for a story she was writing on this surprising new trend of more Americans living alone. One thing I told her is that it’s not such a new trend. Eric Klinenberg documented it is his book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, published more than a year ago.
Just as Klinenberg, a married New York University sociology professor, was at first surprised to find that people actually embrace and covet solo living, so the reporter from the L.A. Times seemed surprised that a growing number of people actually want to live by themselves. And she pressed me on the question: “You really prefer to live alone?”
Another article came out that same week, inspired by the news that one quarter of all home purchases in 2012 were bought by single people. The facts were laid out in a straightforward manner and included the positive conclusion that many people enjoy living alone, relishing the freedom it brings. But check out the image that ran with the story. It’s a photo that could easily have illustrated an article about depression!
And therein lays the anti-single bias. There is an assumption that those who live alone are lonely. I don’t think people even realize, for the most part, that they’ve taken two very separate concepts (living alone and being lonely) and packaged them into one false conclusion (people who live alone are lonely). It’s all part of our society’s underlying, pervasive belief that married is good, single is bad, coupled people have dynamic social connections while single people wither away in desperate loneliness.
When you were a child, wasn’t having your own room a desirable thing? It was a special place that was yours, all yours. A place where you could dream, assert your independence, rest and find peaceful solitude from the rest of the household hubbub. So why, when we grow up, is it be so unusual to want to move beyond just having a room of our own to having a home of our own? Children with their own room are not disconnected from their families and living an isolated life — yet there’s an assumption that an adult living alone must surely be lonely.
Another interesting aspect of the census report is that this rise in solo living is happening despite a lingering recession. People are making sacrifices in order to have their own living space. We know it costs more when you’re not splitting rent and utilities — especially when you’re single in Los Angeles. Yet people are forgoing the new car, the trip to Europe, a new wardrobe, maybe even spending all that they make in order to be the only person who carries a key to their front door.
For them the greatest luxury is coming home from work or a night out with friends or a weekend with their romantic partner to find everything just as they left it and just as they like it to be. They have the best of both worlds. They can step into the peaceful solitude of their domiciles whenever they please. Time spent with friends, family and lovers is purposeful, quality time — not obligatory because those people live there too.
If you had an income that would allow you to live well on your own, would you really be so eager to move in with your boyfriend? Or would you choose to have your own precious space to do, dream and be?
I know my answer. Living alone doesn’t sound lonely to me, it sounds like a little piece of paradise.
Copyright © Kim Calvert/2013 Singular Communications, LLC.