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In 1950, four million American adults lived alone. They represented nine percent of all U.S. households. Today, thirty-one million live alone … twenty-eight percent of all households. For the first time in centuries, the majority of all American adults are single. They will spend more of their adult life unmarried than married, and for much of this time they will live alone. The global numbers of people living alone is also skyrocketing, especially in urban areas of the Scandinavian countries, western Europe and Japan. A New York University sociologist examined the factors behind this trend, and how it is transforming our communities. He joins Diane to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the biggest demographic shift since the baby boom.
- Eric Klinenberg professor of sociology at New York University and editor of the journal "Public Culture."
For many adults, the prospect of living alone sparks anxieties about isolation, but a seven-year study by New York University sociologist, Eric Klinenberg, found people who live alone actually become more socially active and civically engaged. He’s just published a book about the
extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone.
Paying A Premium For Living Alone
Klinenberg said that living alone is often much more expensive than living on one’s own – so much so that in the developed world, getting a place of one’s own is a sign of success. According to Klinenberg, Washington D.C. is the epicenter of solo-livers, with almost half of all households one-person households. In Paris, (the “city of lovers,” Klinenberg notes) more than half of the households have just one person; and in Stockholm the figure is more than 60 percent.
Lifestyles Of Those Who Live Alone
Some might assume that those who live alone are more isolated and have fewer friends, but Klinenberg said that on average, they are more socially connected to friends and neighbors than people who are married. “Married people tend to hunker down and stay home,” he said. There is also a distinction between living alone and being alone, and yet a further distinction between living alone and being isolated or lonely, Klinenberg said.
The Design Of Our Living Spaces And Neighborhoods
“One of the things I’m concerned about is that our suburbs are really designed for a different lifestyle than the one that we live today,” Klinenberg said. “They’re not designed for a world where so many people are living alone, and unfortunately, we’re seeing a whole generation of people who raised their families in the suburbs now have their children gone, perhaps they lose a spouse or get separated, or maybe they’re married and they’re together, they don’t fit where they live anymore,” he said. The suburbs can be particularly isolating for people, which is one reason why many people who live alone are drawn to the density of cities, he said.
Do Men And Women Approach Being Alone Differently?
Diane wondered how men and women view living – and being – alone. Klinenberg said decades of social research have revealed that women generally do a better job of making and keeping friendships than men. This has been found to be true for both friend and family relationships. So women are much more likely than men to live alone, Klinenberg said, but they’re less likely to get dangerously isolated.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For many adults, the prospect of living alone sparks anxieties about isolation, but a seven-year study by New York University sociologist, Eric Klinenberg, found people who live alone actually become more socially active and civically engaged. He's just published a book about the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone. The title of the book is "Going Solo."
MS. DIANE REHMEric Klinenberg joins me in the studio. You can weigh in on our subject this morning. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you. It's good to have you hear.
DR. ERIC KLINENBERGGood morning, it's nice to be here.
REHMThank you. You call this the greatest change since the baby boom. Tell us what's happening.
KLINENBERGI say it's the greatest demographic change because until the 1950s there was not a single society in human history that sustained large numbers of people living alone. In the United States in 1950, about four million people, or under ten percent of all households were one person households, living alone. Today in the United States, 32 million people live alone, 28 percent of all households are one person households, and in fact, this is a trend that's rising everywhere. It's an amazing change.
REHMWhat got you started on this track?
KLINENBERGIt's a funny and strange story. My first book was a book about a heat wave in Chicago in 1995 where hundreds of people died and many of them died alone, a terrible tragedy. And I got very interested in this fact that people were aging alone, and sometimes dying alone, and quite concerned about it. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a big supporter of health research asked me to do some follow up work on social isolation, and I started the study concerned about the problem of isolation, being alone, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized isolation was a serious issue, but there was a whole other and bigger story to tell about the rise of living along in general and off I went.
REHMSo lots of people are choosing to live alone.
KLINENBERGYou almost have to choose to live alone if you're doing it because it's so much more expensive than living with other people. People not just -- they don't just choose it, they pay a premium for it. So, for instance, for young people today throughout the country and really throughout the developed world, getting a place of your own means not living with your parents in your childhood home or in your basement, not living with roommates. It's a sign of success.
REHMAnd you say that Washington D.C. is one of the biggest live alone cities in the country.
KLINENBERGWe are in the epicenter of singledom right here.
KLINENBERGAlmost half of all households in Washington D.C...
KLINENBERG...are one-person households, and in Manhattan, where I live, the number is about the same. And that was shocking to me until I learned that other American cities in all parts of the country, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, have more than 40 percent one-person households, and those numbers are surprisingly low if we look at this in international perspective. In Paris, which is the famous city of lovers, more than half of the households have just one person. In Stockholm it's more than 60 percent.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating, because I think most of us have preconceived notions of what it is to live alone, that is to be lonely, to feel isolated, to have no friends, to have very few activities. You seem to have found precisely the opposite.
KLINENBERGLet me just say that that was my perspective going into this project. Remember, I first learned about it from my study of the heat wave, but like lots of Americans, I grew up with the Edward Hopper paintings, right, the Nighthawks in the diner.
REHMThat lonely face looking out the window.
KLINENBERGAbsolutely. And think about all the icons in American history from Emerson and Thoreau to the Lone Ranger, the detective of the Film Noir tradition. I mean, the solo American can be a kind of bleak, sometimes heroic, but often lonely figure. I was so surprised when I started looking closely at the evidence, and I did more than 300 interviews with a research team with people who lived alone for the book, and also looked at all the surveys on the social lives of people going solo.
KLINENBERGI was so surprised to learn that people who live alone on average are more socially connected to friends and to neighbors than people who are married. Married people tend to hunker down and stay home. And surprised to learn, even that people who live alone tend to be more involved in volunteering in civic groups.
REHMIf you live alone, is Washington D.C. the most popular place in this country to live alone?
KLINENBERGWell, Washington D.C. and Manhattan are two places where there are so many people living alone now that you can experience it as quite a social thing. That's one of the things, I think, we need to clear up right away is there's a distinction between living alone and being alone, and yet a further distinction between living alone and being isolated or lonely. These are all different things, and sometimes we mix them up a little bit carelessly. When you're in -- go ahead, sorry.
REHMDo you think that friends, neighbors, take the place of family for those people who are living alone?
KLINENBERGThey certainly substitute for companionship.
KLINENBERGFor instance, a lot of the people we interviewed for the book were single people who had been married, were either divorced or, you know, widowed. And they weren't planning to live alone. They had planned on living a more conventional married lifestyle, but something changed. In fact, the people who are divorced often said that they had never been so lonely as they were inside of the wrong relationship, which is interesting given the way we think about loneliness and who's lonely.
KLINENBERGThey found that living in a place like Washington D.C. or Manhattan or Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, allows them to engage with other people who are living the way they do. Cities today are full of single people. We talk a lot about dating, dating, dating. That's part of it, but there are these incredible support networks and friendship networks that have emerged in cities throughout the world, you know, solos are coming together.
REHMYou know, for 40 years, my husband and I lived in a house in a neighborhood, and we very rarely saw our neighbors...
REHM...or spent time with them. Now we've moved to a condominium, we see our neighbors all the time, we interact with them. It's so different. I would think that many of the single people you're talking about are living in multi-unit dwellings, or is that a fallacy as well?
KLINENBERGNo. That's right. They're drawn to the density of cities. It's not just the density of things, it's the density of people. One of the things I'm concerned about is that our suburbs are really designed for a different lifestyle than the one that we live today. They're not designed for a world where so many people are living alone, and unfortunately, we're seeing a whole generation of people who raised their families in the suburbs now have their children gone, perhaps they lose a spouse or get separated, or maybe they're married and they're together, they don't fit where they live anymore, and because of the zoning restrictions that have made suburbs look the way they do, people are finding that they have to choose between living in a city and having a more social life, or being relatively isolated in suburbia.
REHMEric Klinenberg. His new book is titled "Going Solo." You can join us 800-433-8850. Who are these people? Number one you say they're primarily women.
KLINENBERGThat's right. They're primarily women, although there are some myths about that. They're primarily women because women tend to live longer than men. So at the end of the life course you find many more women. Under 45 -- under the age of 45, men are more likely to live alone than women, and so no doubt when you talk to single women living in cities across the country, they're concerned about the lack of available single men, but they're out there. You know, they're out there somewhere.
KLINENBERGI break them down into three big groups in the book. The largest group of people living alone in the United States today are middle-aged adults between the ages of 35 and 65. They typically have been married, or have lived with someone in the past and, as I said before, they find themselves living a life that they weren't expecting to live, but often being much more content in it than they expected to be. The fastest growing group of people who are living alone are young people age 35 and under, and this is a fascinating group because people today are very concerned about this boomerang generation.
KLINENBERGThat's a phrase you hear a lot. The idea that young people are moving back in with their parents because the economy is so bad, and I don't want to overstate this, it's true. There's been a little dip in the number of young people who are living alone, but very small, just down one percent since the beginning of the recession. Historically speaking, the spike has been incredible. In 1950 about one percent of Americans under the age of 30 were living alone.
KLINENBERGToday it's about ten percent.
KLINENBERGFrom 500,000 to five million. That's the change that's significant.
REHMAnd I would presume the change is also from perhaps western states to cities.
KLINENBERGThat's the other amazing thing. Fifty or 60 years ago when people lived alone, they tend to live as migrant workers in the kind of open and sprawling western states like Wyoming and Montana. Today it's an urban phenomenon. It respects no geographical borders. It's, as I said, all over the country and all over the world, but people do it in cities.
REHMI'm interested -- I have in front of me a New York Times piece from Sunday's Times, titled "One's a Crowd" taken from your book.
REHMBut what it pictures is a comfortable young woman, her feet up, reading a book, and outside her window is a young man at a computer. Both of them alone.
REHMIndividuals probably quite happy. Eric Klinenberg is with me. We're talking about his brand new book titled "Going Solo." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more and include you in the conversation.
REHMThe subtitle of Eric Klinenberg's new book is "The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone." His book is titled "Going Solo." And on the cover of the book are three individual bird houses with three, I think, little sparrows on the front. Tell us about this cover as compared to the photograph, the drawing that the New York Times used yesterday.
KLINENBERGWell, Penguin did such a brilliant design with the cover of this book but it took a lot of hard work because it turns out that we all have a kind of file of stock images in our minds of what being alone means and what it looks like. And it looks like Hopper. It looks lonely. It looks a little bit melancholy and depressing. And so if you put people on their own, you connote that.
KLINENBERGAnd what I think the Penguin people did with the birds and what the Times did so nicely yesterday with the two people in separate apartments on their own but somehow connected to something bigger is get the way that this experience has changed.
KLINENBERGBecause it's very different to be alone, say, if you're sitting in your room and you're connected to the world socially through the internet than it is to be alone passively watching TV or doing something worse.
REHMBut, you know, it's not just the internet. Let's go back to people like Helen Gurley Brown.
KLINENBERGA sensational part of the research for this was rediscovering Sex and the Single Girl because Helen Gurley Brown is saying to women many decades ago, the way to grow up and to be an appealing strong adult person is to get a place of your own. She said, you should do it -- I don't mean get a place with roommates away from your parents. I mean, you should get your own apartment because it gives you autonomy. It gives you freedom. You can do what you want when you want to do it. You can bring home who you want when you want to. You can enjoy some of the pleasures of city living.
KLINENBERGAnd you can also invest yourself in work. Get things done. And this is actually a tough issue that I had to deal with in the book. A lot of young people who live alone and have all this free time wind up using it to invest in their careers. They feel so insecure because of the way the world is now, there's no corporation making a lifetime commitment to them. They've grown up the children of divorce and are concerned about the possibility that even if they got married that might fall apart some day. They think they have to build themselves up and establish personal security. Living alone affords them the chance to do that
REHMBut, you know, going back once more to Edward Hopper takes me to the thought, preceding is wonderful. God knows where everybody is connected to the rooming houses of the past where people really lived in a room and had just that window to look out from. Maybe that image has lingered on.
KLINENBERGIt has and we should not be glib about this subject. I know as much as anyone from the previous work I've done and from the interviews in this book with men who are still living in the Bowery District of New York today in the few single-room housing occupancy dwellings that exist that there still is a world of impoverished men on their own in fairly bleak places. And my view is we would be more effective at providing support for people in those situations if we broke away from the kind of lament that we sometimes fall into about the decline of community, the end of social ties and addressed their concerns more specifically.
REHMDo you think other countries with high populations of single people living alone do better at this than we do, for example Denmark or Sweden?
KLINENBERGWe have a problem here of not having the kind of supportive services for people who are on their own and in trouble that can make it a better healthier experience. So for instance, the last several years in this country there have been terrible budget cuts in state governments everywhere because the economy is doing so badly.
KLINENBERGOne of the first programs to be cut in almost every state or city are programs that provide home services to very old people who are living alone, programs to provide hot meals, all kinds of healthcare special transportation that people who are at risk of being isolated need. They tend to provide them more generously in Europe and I think that's something that we need to consider here.
REHMHow much of what's happening now, that is with people living alone is because people are marrying later in life?
KLINENBERGIt's a big part of it. In cities like New York or Washington D.C. or Boston the average age of first marriage is over 30 now. So people have a whole extended period of time in which they are on their own in cities. Some social scientists call this the second adolescence. But when I did interviews with people I learned that it's actually a way of growing up. If you get your own apartment this is a way to become an adult. So it's a pivotal experience.
KLINENBERGThere's another thing that's different now about living alone with respect to relationships as well, that is after you separate or get divorced people are not rushing to get back into another marriage. We don't say the only route to happiness is at the chapel. People are now separating and staying on their own for years or decades and finding that they can be quite social.
KLINENBERGSo let me just be clear about one thing. In the abstract many people will say that they would love to find that perfect relationship. They're not saying they'd rather live alone than anything else. But what they are saying and what they're doing with their pocketbooks is they're saying I would rather live on my own and have a social active life than live with the wrong person.
REHMInteresting. The other means of growing up is usually college, number one, for sharing a college dorm room. But then you're seeing more and more individual dorm rooms.
KLINENBERGThis is incredible. I started talking to people who do housing in colleges and universities around the country. And what they tell me is what everyone is requesting these days is a single room. It's the hottest thing in college campuses. So colleges that are trying to compete with each other to win the best students are building more suites with individual rooms in them.
KLINENBERGAnd one of the things I try to do in the book is to show the history of the individual private room in the family home. Because it turns out that the idea that a child should have his or her own room is a historically new phenomenon. In fact, the crib is a historically new phenomenon. We have redesigned contemporary life in the most affluent societies on earth to provide more privacy. So that when someone gets to be 18, 19, 20 years old they have an experience of being on their own. And even a kind of expectation for it that we never had as a species before.
REHMI would also think that the phenomenon of wanting to have one's own dorm room is the desire to avoid the problems of a roommate.
KLINENBERGI'm sure it is but what people experience today is that they can select into the social world that they want. That's one of the things that they do with Facebook or social media. And they want to bring that into their embodied life as well. So, you know, I do get concerned about that, people not subjecting themselves to the arbitrariness of meeting someone who's very much unlike them.
KLINENBERGMy roommate from my first year in college was a kid from a Persian family who grew up in Silicon Valley and I grew up with a Jewish family in Chicago and we're still close friends today.
KLINENBERGSo it would be a loss not to have him in my life.
REHMBut here's the question. Do men and women approach being alone differently?
KLINENBERGThey do. And this is a theme that I try to hit very hard. We know from decades of social science research that on average women tend to do a better job making and also maintaining friendships over the course of their lives. You know, you can see that in grammar school but, you know, you can also see it in old age. And this is true for friends, it's also true for family relationships. So women are much more likely than men to live alone but they're less likely to get dangerously isolated.
REHMEric Klinenberg is professor of sociology at New York University and the editor of the journal "Public Culture." His new book is titled "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone." We've got so many callers. We'll open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Boston, Mass. Good morning, Julia, you're on the air.
JULIAHello. Thanks for taking my call.
JULIAI'm just wondering if he could speak to what this might say about the selfishness of society now. And he touched on it just a minute ago about kids having their own bedrooms and that. But that's the thing that worries me. I'm glad that people are happy but I think it also says that they're not really accountable to anyone else, that they can just put themselves first. And I don't think that's a good trend.
KLINENBERGSo I think that’s a fair concern and it's a common one. Does this -- does the rise of living alone mean the rise of selfishness or narcissism? I just don't see the evidence for that. So take for instance the surprising finding that people who live alone are so much more likely to go out and engage, to be involved in civic groups, to volunteer. They're likely to go out in the world and provide support for friends. They're more likely to meet strangers in public spaces.
KLINENBERGSo I think we should remember that we are at the very early stages of, you know, what I call in this book a social experiment. I mean, we have about 200,000 years of history living in groups domestically and we have about 50 or 60 years living on our own. So let's keep tracking that question, but at this point I don't think this is a story of narcissism.
REHMGood, good. I'm glad to hear that. Let's go to Trevor City, Mich. Hi there, Kelly.
KELLYHi. First of all I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you when you were in Trevor City, was it two years ago?
REHMOh thanks, Kelly.
KELLYIt was the highlight of my year. I also have to say that this discussion has really raised my sprits in validating the lifestyle I have chosen. I am -- retirement. I've spent the last probably ten or fifteen years alone. And I have loved being selfish after years of working as a nurse and taking care of kids. It's like this is my time to be my own person. But I wanted to bring up something I saw on a tea bag years ago. It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me as a young person but it said, loneliness is deceit, solitude is simply peace of mind.
KELLYAnd on the days that I have felt like the -- of my house were closing in on me I remembered somebody saying, well okay, you can either wallow in your misery or you can use this time to find yourself, to do things that you have not had time to do. And being alone certainly isn't the worst thing that's ever happened to a woman because it allows us a lot of choices.
KLINENBERGSuch a sharp observation. And one of the main arguments I make in my book is that we live in a time of hyper connection. We spend so much of our time at work or in social media, busy, busy, busy, living alone gives us a way to achieve this precious solitude. To think about how we're living, about how we'd like to change, things, we'd like to do better. And surprisingly, paradoxically living alone can help us to reconnect with more meaningful relationships with other people. So that observation makes a lot of sense.
KLINENBERGI have to say I also spoke to a lot of women who had spent much of their lives taking care of other people who said, I'd like to spend some time doing something for myself.
REHM...taking care of myself.
REHM"Going Solo" is the title of Eric Klinenberg's new book and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Kate who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning to you.
KATEWell, hi there, Diane. Let me throw something in here I think needs to be said, too. There's another new phenomenon. I'm in it myself, and it's called a LAT couple, Living Apart Together. Most of what I've heard this morning has been about people making choices between being in committed relationships or being alone and wanting to have time. I'm in a relationship of -- even through another marriage would you believe, for 30 years. This year will be my 30th anniversary with this person. And we...
KATEWell, thank you. And the thing about it is this, we now have transcended space and time. We don't necessarily have to be in each other's face every day to have a loving, wonderful, fabulous, trusting relationship. The distance has been cut, you know. And what we try to do is have two condos so that, you know, he has things he wants to do. He's a mentalist. I'm a hoarder. You know, and I say that, you know, with humor.
KATEAnd the thing we've decided to do is give each other the space to be uniquely who we are. But we love each other very much. We are together. I mean, I can't think of a couple who would be more together than we have become over these 30 years.
KLINENBERGLet me say that absolutely I read a lot about the Living Apart Together phenomenon and don't mean to make a distinction between living alone and being in a relationship. Many people who live alone are in relationships that are quite meaningful. I think what's so interesting again is that we are experimenting with new ways of living.
KLINENBERGAnd my argument is that people aren't making a choice between being alone or being together. We're cycling in and out of different conditions. We're alone on our own for some time. We're in a relationship for some time. We live with someone for some time. We're crafting new ways of living. So rather than look at this and think the sky is falling (laugh) we need to be worried, I'm trying to look at it from a distant perspective and say, what a fascinating moment it is to craft a life.
REHMIndeed. All right. And to Eleanor, who's in San Antonio, Texas, good morning.
ELEANORHi. How are you, Diane?
ELEANORI enjoy your show.
REHMI'm so glad.
ELEANORAnd I have been a widow for ten years and I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. And as a widow, I have had to create a whole new life. And I have a wonderful life. Yes, I miss my husband, but I'm very involved in the community. I volunteer three days a week. I travel. I love what I do and if anyone had told me ten years ago, when my husband died, that I would be as happy as I am now, I would've said they didn't know what they were talking about.
ELEANORAnd that lady saying that she thought that living alone was being selfish. I give so much of myself, I cannot envision myself as being selfish. And I just don't have the desire to be with anyone else. I had a wonderful marriage. My husband and I had been married 44 years. We started going together when we were 15. And I just have not been able to find a man that measures up. And why go out just so that I can say I have somebody with me when I come home at night.
ELEANORYes, at times, I am lonely, but I love the life I have. I love what I'm able to do and I just thank the Lord every day for all the blessings that I have in my life.
REHMEleanor, thanks so much for that call. And we'll take a short break here and be right back.
REHMAnd as we talk with Eric Klinenberg about his new book titled "Going Solo," that last caller, Eric, spoke of having been a widow for ten years, not having imagined how wonderful it would be to be able to do all the things she's doing now that her beloved husband is gone.
KLINENBERGThat story resonated so much with the stories of people we spoke to in the book. And it was surprising because there's this mythical kind of stereotype out there that there's a world full of older women who are searching everywhere for those last few remaining single guys who are interested in them. So that turns out not to be the case. And it's encouraging to find so many people finding ways to remake their lives in surprising ways.
REHMBrand new phenomenon.
KLINENBERGThat -- it is. I mean, again, I don't want to gloss over the difficulties of loneliness or of isolation for the people who experience that. I think we should do more on that issue. But for the majority of people who live alone and even age alone it's preferable to other ways that they have available to them. And they find ways to make their lives work.
REHMHere's an email from Chad, which he titles "Living Alone-ish." He says, "I'm curious to know if Dr. Klinenberg is including single parents when he talks about living alone."
KLINENBERGThey're not included in those numbers I gave before. So if it feels like you're living alone if you're -- and you're living alone with children, you probably have some experiences that will resonate with the stories I tell in the book. But they're not part of those statistics, which means the numbers, as high as they are, might actually understate the prevalence of this.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Coconut Grove, Fla. Good morning, Todd.
TODDGood morning, Diane and Eric. I thought you might appreciate a minor critique on your opening remarks. You coupled Emerson with Thoreau. Emerson was quite a family man so I just pass that on to you as a gift.
KLINENBERGAnd a believer of self reliance. And, you know, I want to say one thing about this idea of self reliance, which is that it can be overstated. What I have discovered is that being autonomous and being independent relies on being dependent on other people. In other words, our connections with each other our interdependence affords us the chance to have the liberation of being alone. You can't do it without support.
KLINENBERGOne of my favorite stories about the Roe is that he used to walk home from his cabin to get home cooked meals from his mother and often spent the nights in a pub. So even in his great two year period of really being on his own he was quite connected.
REHMThanks for calling Todd. And now to New York City, the other huge live-alone city. Valerie, you're on the air.
VALERIEHow are you?
REHMI'm fine, thanks.
VALERIEWell, I'm one of the many that you spoke about. I actually lived first with a roommate and then, thank god, alone in New York City for, gee, about 18 years until I got married late in life, like your statistics and not until I was age 40. I cherished my living alone time. It was terrific. And I think one of the points that I haven't said that I think should be said is how relaxing living alone can be. You know, sure you can work on yourself and your spirituality and all that stuff, but it's extremely relaxing after a hectic day of work.
VALERIEAnd, you know, god knows in cities, we all work very long hours, to come home and be completely the master of your own destiny. If you want no lights on, no lights go on, if you want no noise, no noise. You know, if you want to be up until 3:00 in the morning, no one's bothered. And it's not only relaxing and I think as the pace increases in cities, the way we socialize, you have to answer email immediately, it all goes so fast, to come to a place where it's just pure relaxation. It can't be overstated.
KLINENBERGLet me say that I lived alone for a time as well. I'm now married with two young children living in a smallish Manhattan apartment. You know, I appreciate the experiences that I had, you know, having access to that peace and the chance for relaxation and solitude. I'm not advocating any particular lifestyle. My point is not to try to persuade any person to settle down or to set themselves free.
KLINENBERGBut what I want to do is say we now live differently. And we've experienced this incredible social change, the rise of living alone. It's time that we named it because once we call it something we can start to have conversations about it. Today we all experience this as a private issue whether it's we're living alone or someone around us lives alone and we're thinking about them. In fact, it's a widely shared public issue and we need to start talking about it.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Hiran (sp?) .
HIRANGood morning. Glad to be on.
HIRANOkay. My question is with so many multimedia dating sites, haven't people become more sexually active with multiple partners and not really looking for a monogamous relationship anymore?
KLINENBERGWell, here's the thing. People are using the online dating sites. People want to couple up. They want to connect. They want to keep on having fun. But ultimately people get married. It turns out that by the age of 40 more than 85 percent of women will get married and the great majority of men will as well. By the age of 50 more than 90 percent of the population in the United States will have gotten married.
KLINENBERGSo we haven't witnessed the end of marriage by any means, but we have a more kind of open attitude about it. We tend to think that if a marriage isn't working we now have to justify staying in it because we're committed to the idea that our relationships should serve ourselves. They should do for us, you know, what we want them to do. And I think that we shouldn't see these things as opposed.
REHMYou know, I had one therapist who said to me, you've got three elements in a marriage. You've got the man, the woman and the marriage so that each acts individually. And the marriage is something separate.
REHMSo we have to sort of think of them in separate ways.
KLINENBERGOne of the most thoughtful, insightful women I interviewed has lived alone for many years and has decided that she really would like to have the experience of living with a partner. And the way that she puts it is that she has learned much of what she feels like she can learn about herself and about life from being on her own. And that she thinks that the experience of profound intimacy, of sharing a space with some other person will help her to learn some new things. And she's not sure that she wants to be in a relationship like this for the rest of her life but she wants to try it and see how it is.
KLINENBERGAnd it's interesting that we can now have that kind of experience.
REHMThe other reason that people sometimes stay together, and especially men seeking a relationship after a marriage fails may be the fear of growing old alone and needing someone to take care of them.
KLINENBERGAbsolutely. And that for many people can be a scary prospect. And let's face it, here's an area where men tend to benefit much more than women from the kinds of care and support that you get in a marriage. Again, as I said before, men are at more risk of being isolated. Women, in some ways, face the risk of becoming the caretaker. And I think one reason that so many women after losing their husbands no longer want to get married again is because they've put in so much work. They know that getting remarried likely to an older man almost guarantees them that they'll have that experience again in life.
REHMSo somehow society itself is going to need to adapt to these changes.
KLINENBERGSo I think, you know, one really interesting thing to track as we continue in this social experiment is how the behavior of men changes. Will the men of my generation start to act differently inside of relationships than the men of our fathers' or grandfathers' generations?
REHMGive me an example.
KLINENBERGBut will they provide more care and support to their spouses if they're married? Will they be better at maintaining social ties, friendships? The evidence isn't in. We don't know but there have been huge cultural changes around sex and gender in the last 50 years, an enormous number of women entering into the workplace, getting the means to live on their own. In fact, the first of the major changes I say that drives the rise in living alone is the rising status of women. So how men will react to this change and whether men will adapt is going to be one of the interesting things to follow.
REHMAll right. And to MacLean, Va. Good morning, Judith.
JUDITHGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JUDITHI have several comments, which I'll try to be brief. One is that I don't view this as a particularly new phenomenon, with all due respect to your guest, because I'm sort of the cutting edge of the baby boom generation. And I can tell you that a lot of my generation lived on their own for a very long time. I did for almost 20 years. Didn't marry until my late 40s and then have been married now for about 16 years in a very good relationship. And what I find is that both have their challenges and both have their satisfactions.
JUDITHOne of the interesting phenomena I find is that often people who are married think that people who are unmarried have life easier, that they don't have as many demands on their life. And I think the demands are just different. I also think that today what you're dealing with in terms of isolation has a lot to do with this internet and media device connectedness. But, you know, when you're in groups you don't even communicate with each other. So it may be a different kind of aloneness today than it was when I was living on my own.
KLINENBERGSo those are all very thoughtful comments and I'll just say briefly, you know, on the first one, by historically new I mean it starts in the 1950s or '60s on a large scale. So I'm not saying it happened last week but I'm trying to take a big view at this and say here's an enormous social change that we haven't really named or identified yet, the rise of living alone as a transformation. So I think I agree with you on the first point.
KLINENBERGThe internet thing is a really interesting one. It -- you know, many people are concerned that we spend so much time in our Blackberries and our, you know, instant messaging devices that we forget about each other. But the most careful study of this that's been done by the PEW Foundation found that in fact heavy users of SmartPhones and of the internet are more likely to go out and meet people in public, more likely to be publicly engaged and to encounter strangers.
KLINENBERGSo there's a lot of evidence that we're actually using the internet to make ourselves more social. Again, you know, we're early in this process. We're just adapting but I think we should keep tracking it.
REHMAnd the common belief is that all of this internet use is going to isolate us even more.
KLINENBERGI think there's a lot of fear of that, but at this point, the evidence just doesn't tell us that this is the main thing to be worried about.
REHMAll right. To Chapel Hill, N.C. Hi, Rosie.
ROSIEHi. I just wanted to say I'm one of maybe one of the few people who I found it cheaper -- I find it cheaper to live on my own because I've always lived more frugally than any of my roommates in the past. So it works out for me financially and I love it.
REHMAnd saving money?
KLINENBERGA surprise. I mean, there are ways in which it can be more expensive to live alone. You have to pay for an apartment without sharing the cost, not just of the rent but also of the heat or the cable bill, the WiFi access you have. The cost of cooking can be higher if you can't share the food. But there's lots of different experiences out there and I'm glad you found a way to make it work.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Niles, Mich. Hi there, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHHi. Hi. Is this Diane Rehm?
REHMYes, go right ahead, please.
ELIZABETHYou know, actually I love your show. I listen to it all the time. You know, I just came late to this conversation. I just became a widow about, I'd say, 11 months ago.
ELIZABETHOh no. I'm fine, but I just, you know, it's really strange -- I'm fine actually. I just, you know, the thing is, you know, when you're with somebody for so long and then suddenly go away, it's just a real shock to your system, you know.
ELIZABETHJack and I were married, like, 27 years and I'm 53 years old. And the strange thing about it is, I’m an artist and I'm used to being alone. In fact, I'm a solitary person, but, you know, it's very strange when it happens very quickly. He got colon cancer and he died, like, within four months. And I'll tell you that I hadn't really thought about how much he'd become a part of me. You know what I mean?
ELIZABETHAnd it's really just one of those things that when you experience it and you don't mind being alone, but then you're -- it's thrust upon you, it just, you know, I'm used to it now after about ten, eleven months. You know, I've gotten used to the fact that this is my life. And I don't want to get in another relationship. And I -- Jack was, you know, the love of my life obviously. But I'm going to definitely buy this book. And I'm sorry. I'm very emotional. I'm just...
REHMWell, I can certainly understand that, Elizabeth. Your loss is very fresh. I hope you'll take good care of yourself. Keep painting and be a part of the life around you as well. Boy, is that an example.
KLINENBERGIt's profound. It's devastating. And by no means do I want to give the impression that I'm -- the argument is that this is a wonderful, you know, great thing. We're better off on our own. By no means am I saying this. What's interesting is that more and more people are getting out of a marriage, whether it's because of a divorce or because they've lost their spouse and deciding that they're going to be on their own. They're going to live alone for some time. They don't have to marry being alone. They can always find someone else eventually.
KLINENBERGBut we've changed from, say, 50 years ago when we would've been much more likely to move in with relatives after a loss or a divorce.
REHMSo how, in the long run, do you think this entire societal picture is going to look?
KLINENBERGIt's hard for me to see this declining. There are many people who thought that the recession and the tough economic times would just make it unaffordable to live alone. Surprisingly there are more Americans living alone in 2012 than there were in 2008 or 2009. The numbers keep going up. Furthermore, you find that wherever there's economic development people start living alone. So the three nation -- or three of the nations with the highest increases in rates of living alone are China, India and Brazil.
KLINENBERGYou find going solo to be prevalent in all parts of the world today. Where there's prosperity or a welfare state people make this choice. So one of the really interesting questions is, is this environmentally sustainable? Will people living alone consume far more resources than people who are living collectively? And my answer to that is well, we need to study it. We don't really know, but consider this. Four people living closely together in Manhattan in an apartment building versus four people living in a giant house somewhere in suburbia with two cars. I'm betting the first.
REHMEric Klinenberg and his new book is titled "Going Solo." Very interesting trend. Thanks for doing this.
KLINENBERGIt's been a pleasure.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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