News Column

More Americans Choose to Live Alone

Oct. 11, 2012

Haya El Nasser, and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY

The poor economy has driven more people to live together but hasn't stemmed one of the most profound and long-lasting lifestyle shifts of this generation: living alone.

About 32 million Americans live by themselves, a number that has increased for more than six decades. The largest jump is happening now among seniors -- another sign that the influence of Baby Boomers (the oldest turned 66 this year) is far from fading.

Almost 28% of the nation's 115 million households were living solo in 2011 compared with 26% in 2000, according to Census data. About 10% of all households were people 65 and over living alone, a segment that grew 7% since 2005.

"Over time, a greater number of singletons will be elderly," says Eric Klinenberg, sociology professor at New York University and author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

The 7.9 million older women who live alone now make up almost half of all women living solo. The share of men 65 and over who live alone is smaller (3.3 million) but grew faster than women since 2005.

The trend has been overshadowed by "boomerang kids" who return home when they can't find work and by homeowners in foreclosure who move in with relatives. That and immigrant families' cultural embrace of living with extended families pushed the average number of people in a household up for the first time in decades -- 2.64 in 2011, up from 2.59 in 2000.

More seniors living alone isn't necessarily cause for concern but a sign that "old age" is being redefined as people live longer, healthier lives, Klinenberg says.

"A lot of the men who are aging alone today are divorced and they've learned how to go solo," he says. "They still don't do it as well as women because women do a better job maintaining relationships with friends and family members."

Elder care advocates say more support is needed for seniors living on their own. "Being alone does offer less protection than if you have other people," says Debra Whitman, executive vice president for policy at AARP.

The rise of older singles is creating demand for different types of housing, services and products.

"The market has embraced with great enthusiasm the new buying power and tastes and habits of people living alone, but they've done far less for the elderly," says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families.

"Living alone is in some way a symptom of affluence," Coontz says.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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