In his new book “Going Solo,” Eric Klinenberg interviewed hundreds of people living alone. He wanted to know why in the modern world more than 50 percent of adults are single, and why so many love living alone. We explore the rise in solo-living and the sociology behind it.

Living Alone and Loving It 23 February,2012forum

Eric Klinenberg, author of "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone"

  • Beth

    Did Mr Klinenberg read the NYTimes piece on Wednesday titled One Is the Quirkiest Number The Freedom, and Perils, of Living Alone? Have lived alone since becoming a widow and find myself wanting a smaller and smaller place, while also savouring my space and stillness. Does he know of the small house society and how big (pun intended) small house living has become?

  • Cogito

    American society is unofficially based on Social Darwinism, as many such as Malcolm Gladwell, Richard Dawkins, Alexis de Tocqueville and others have noted, as if the mainstream media would ever let us forget it. I wonder therefore, to what extent has the culture’s acceptance of the shoddy logic of social fitness and unfitness and winning and losing, influenced the decision of some to live alone. For instance, do solo often inhabitants believe that anyone else in their situation is unfit to live with, while they personally are “fit” enough to live alone without others’ help?

  • My understanding is that living alone has significant diseconomies of scales which means people who live alone tend to have lower incomes. I have heard from a number of sources that the rise of single-adult households accounts for much of the drop (or stagnation) in median income. (Contradicting the “fall of the middle-class” explanation) Can your guest comment on that?

  • Jesse Hammer

    My girlfriend of a year and a half are madly in love and plan on spending the rest of our lives together. However, she lives in Oakland and I in San Francisco and we have no plans to change this in the foreseeable future. We enjoy each others cities and apartments and have seen the struggles our married peers have gone through with home ownership, children etc. and feel no need to follow. 

  • Cathy

    I’m wondering if the state of the economy will likely change the younger population living alone because so many are moving back home because they can’t find work.

  • Dgreggd

    Single living doesn’t cause incomes to drop…but lower incomes might cause roommate living, particularly where housing is expensive, e.g. SF & NY.

  • guest

    I am glad that Eric brought up the issue that employers often rely on single employees to get the work done when other employees have family responsibilities that take precedent over work. This is my experience and the reason I decided to leave a job for self employment. Going solo for me was not living alone since I am married but it meant working alone.

    • $311151

      The life-work balance issue for singles is grossly ignored. As a single, if I work long hours with a long commute: I have to pay someone to walk my dog (no kids to do it after school. I come home to an empty house (too little energy to get socializing from late partying with friends after a work day.) Basic household chores take the whole weekend (more people don’t incrementally increase the workload for stuff like sweeping the floors or maintaining the car.)

  • Lemotjuste12

    Lord, do I remember  how difficult it was to be unmarried and especially to be unmarried by choice!  I decided when I was 15 (1953) not to marry.  I kept this to myself until I was 23 when I told my otherwise kind and supportive mother.  She cried and said:  “something was left out of you”!  I met resistance no matter where I turned.  When seeking help to think through a decision of whether to get a doctorate in anthropology or pursue another line of work, the psychologist refused to help me.  He said that obviously the problem was that I was unmarried and if I wanted to continue with him the question of marriage would have to be examined first.  I have had a marvelous life rich with friends and relatives, with study and work and travel and volunteering.  And I remain happily single at 74. 

  • Ann

    How about “soloist?”

  • Mamiller520

    Bridget Jones’ Diary (the book and the movie) used the term ‘singleton’.  

  • Dgreggd

    A major tragedy is that the social bias favoring families keeps us building houses for a shrinking demographic while zoning against smaller apartments for this fastest-growing group. This means artificially higher rents and lower suburban home values, spurred further by subsidies to driving and pollution. How can we counter anti-apartment zoning?
    D. Gregg

  • burro

    Keep pets in mind. They might not be human, but they are companions and for many solo folks, their cats and dogs are preferable, or at least more than adequate substitutes, for some human interaction.

    Otherwise, the freedom, the ability to control one’s habitat environment, the quiet when desired and the lack of necessity to accomodate someone elses preferences can all be pluses.

    At 56, I’ve lived far more of my life alone than the alternative, and I feel spoiled. I wouldn’t change a thing. But a dog on the other hand… come on in buddy…woof!

    • Owence

      Sometimes, there are unavoidable situations that happens in life. You’re living with a husband that you think will  stay with you forever but unfortunately not.   Cats and Dogs are nice companion.  Not everyone would be of favor on this matter but it’s all about our circumstances—

  • campfiregirl

    I think one problem with language is that we are defining independent adults by their relationship status. 

  • Susan

    One of the issues of living alone is aging alone. Has your guest written about the “collectives” (don’t recall the formal name) that have come about in which members of a community create a system of exchange services whereby the members help one another in the event of illness and aging?

  • JJ

    Living alone is absolute bliss compared to living w/ roommates whether close frinds or not. I hear horror stories all the time of uncomfortable roommate situations: I answer to no one but myself. Other being in love and living w/ that special someone, living solo flying solo is the way to go. JJ Fonseca

  • Emma Lyons

    Wow, I have never felt pride in my situation until listening to this program!
    My ex is an alcoholic, and we were going to get married.  I finally had to leave, and have lived alone now for almost 2 months in Oakland, CA.  I have been struggling with it, yet also starting to see the benefits.  My place is my own, I feel peace for the first time in years.  I love my friends and enjoy my connections here in the city.

    Thank you for the program!

  • Rita Kresha


  • Ed

    I’m far more of a social being living alone then when I was married. My two dogs keep me busy when I’m not communicating to people via social media.

  • Taiairam

    Did the author look at intentional communities? As a 45 year old single woman in the Bay Area, I am very interested in transitioning to living in a community of like minded individuals but haven’t found great resources.

    • JD

      Taiairam, you might check out this resource online (http://www.ic.org/). Fellowship for Intentional Community has published a Directory for decades. (I have no affiliation with them, just  know their resources.)

  • Can your guest suggest ways for single men to better build their social networks so as to avoid the loneliness and isolation to which they are prone?

  • Misha

    My partner and I lived happily apart for years in San Francisco. When we decided to move in together, simply to be closer, we agreed that we had to find a place with a minimum of 3 bedrooms so that we could each have our own private space at home. For us, the only realistic option was to maintain personal space in our home together. It has worked out really well.

  • Jslipman

    U keep referring to the desire and need for human connection. That is true. Naturally most healthy adults have the need for human interaction and touch. This is part of ” survival of the fittest”. Families are the backbone of society. They are our countries future. It is not always easy or convenient to be married or raise children. We as a community, single or not, should encourage those who choose to marry and raise a family in a difficult financial and tumultuous time. It is for the good of the whole if families can stay together and succeed. Thinking only of self is ones prerogative, however don’t resent those who commit and take on the responsibility and additional work of home and children. ( when they are encouraged not to stay and work late). And to call family greedy with time?? Wow, it sounds like those who want to continue to stay “swinging singles” are just mad that their playmates are taking on adult responsibilities. There is a time and season for family and time for alone. If the majority of educated adults choose this single lifestyle, that would mean the only children and future of our country will be those from illegitimate and uneducated

  • Jon

    Michael I think I know why you have an aversion to the term singleton. It is
    probably for the same reason I have, perhaps because we are both older than your guest. 
    You may recall, there was a certain Lawrence Singleton, the perpetrator of a very terrible crime against a young woman, here in California. I believe. That is all I feel comfortable saying about the matter.. 


  • William

    We’ve seen single inhabitants on TV for years. House is perhaps the most conspicuous one today, most Star Trek characters too, but think back over the years and you’ll realize that a great many TV protagonists were “singletons”. Our culture, as depicted in the media anyway, connects heroism and even Darwinian fitness with being a singleton.

  • Isabel

    I feel that people are looking for what I call “transaction” instead of relationships. It seems to me that they are looking at it almost like if it was accounting. When I married my husband I committed to being together for better or for worse.

  • pighuddle

    I’m happy to be living alone, but I do miss the physical component (sex) of being in a relationship.

  • BeenAroundTheBlock

    I went from a childhood home with 5 siblings to college roommates to living with my boyfriend to marriage, so by age 38 I’d never lived alone.  What a relief it was to live by myself, put whatever I wanted to on my walls, not compromising, not coordinating anybody’s schedules but my own. It was glorious for 10 years, and it made me a better married partner because I really was more than okay by myself.  

  • Susan

    One of the issues of living alone is aging alone. Has your guest written about the “collectives” (don’t recall the formal name) that have come about in which members of a community create a system of exchange services whereby the members help one another in the event of illness and aging?     

    • Noelle

      Look up cohousing for seniors. You have your own unit but share a common area as well. Cohousing started in Denmark and is usually a multi-generational housing option.
      We tried starting cohousing in Silicon Valley but found the cost of buying land or retrofitting existing properties prohibitively expensive, unfortunately. As others have said, if you have enough money you have more living options.

  • Bayareagirl

    I am a 36 year old female and live alone not by choice, but because I am single and cannot share a kitchen with roommates.  My life is not as rosy as depicted here. I miss my family and friends, I hate waking up to a quiet home and coming home for dinner alone.  My married friends are too busy.  I worry about the future and who will take care of me as I get older.  The reason I need a kitchen is that I have health problems and allergies, so I cannot eat out much and need to be careful about what I eat.  A community where other singles would interact would be great. 

  • Once married and lonely

    Simon & Garfunkle:  She left home after living alone for so many years.  Alone does not mean lonely; and living with someone can be terribly lonely.

    • Roger Singleton

      That was the Beatles (She’s Leaving Home)…

  • Jslipman

    Sounds like the singles want all the benefits of human connection and relations and self indulgence without any of the responsibility or price that comes along with it. Im ok with those who want to be single, but it’s not the benefit of the community to put money into making this lifestyle more appealing, they have the time and money to create their desired lifestyles, and communities need to give more help and support to keep families strong. if families fail. So do we as a country.

    • $311151

      It only appears to be “to the benefit of the community” to lend extra support to families because the game is rigged that way in the first place. Some people do better single, some married without children, some with children, and so on. If marriage is more financially viable because of, say, tax breaks or other preferential contracts made available for sharing property, that’s not a “natural” advantage to marriage.

  • Jasongalon

    Thank you so much for this show! I’m a mid 30s guy who’s single and loving it.  Often times I’m pressed about finding a companion (usually from married people) and I can’t possibly be happy without one.  This show has confirmed my style of living  and informed me about the importance of having that support group.  I would like to get married; just not hurried to do so.

  • Brian Northway

    I think that societal concern over singletons is one of many examples of
    discrimination against introverts.  Our society, as a whole, seem to
    frown upon any behavior that is not extroverted. Examples include, preferring a private office to an open floor-plan, at work, suspicion of single men hanging out in a park, etc.  It’s nice that additudes are changing, but we have a long way to go.

    • SFMoore

      Much of what I hear on the radio implies that even extroverts are boring if they prefer quiet conversation with a few other people to wild parties.

  • yle

    Just found out that my husband was unfaithful to me, can’t leave him because I am too afraid to be alone.  Listening this program makes me realize that is better to be alone.  if other can they I can.
    Thank you for your program

    • SheriReho

       yle…you can do it! In my opinion, it is better to be alone than to stay with your husband and live with the worry of him being unfaithful again.  In my opinion, you owe it to yourself, to your self-respect, to show him that his behavior is not okay…that you area not so dependent on him as to stay when you are unhappy with his behavior.

  • Aquachildbliss

    Contrary to the stressful inconveniences of “group” living (i.e.: family and room mate conflicts which you are forced to tolerate due to economic dependence), single living supports optimal happiness since you have the freedom to chose who you share your most intimate time and space with. Aaaah “Singleton” bliss..:-)

  • Lev

    It’s been a comfort to hear that I am a precise product of my times:
    One thing that I do feel the need to say though, that many people who have called in, have been talking about the social network they have built. If one isn’t particularly good at building that network, the isolation can really screw with your brain.

  • April

    My parents were married–and divorced–very young so I was encouraged, OFTEN, to wait for marriage.  Accordingly, I didn’t get married until I was 36, which was definitely by choice.  I loved being single and living alone throughout my 20s and early 30s.
    Happily married now, my husband and I decided to only have one child, in large part because of the greater acceptance society seems to have for people alone.  If fact, the one single friend I’ve had who has always been comfortable eating alone or going to the movies alone is an only child.  Our little boy has cousins close in age and we’ve decided that that works for us.  We see most people still choosing to have a minimum of two kids and I’m wondering if you’ve seen a growth in people choosing only one based on the higher acceptance of singletons…?

  • ProudToBeAMom

    I know that living alone has its advantages but human being is certainly not meant to be living alone, thus the need to have so many pets.  Although people often do remain single under life circumstances, but that should not be encouraged as the better way of living. Some caller said that she and her friend who happens to be a male next door are so happy to be ‘Child-Free’ as if a child was a disease that she was free of!  If everyone stays single and childless (as I prefer calling it), then how would this country move on, by migrating a whole lot of foreigners such as Scandinivian countries do? 
    Also, I often think that singles make it very hard for working moms to succeed in their careers.  Working moms can’t stay in the office until bedtime like some singles do so that labels them as less hardworking as their single counterparts.  The promotion of Singleton is to the benefit of the corporate world but is it really a benefit to the society as a whole? 
    Wishing everyone the joys of family ties!

    • guest

      Sometimes the singletons are in the office until late because their co-workers need to leave early for their children’s activities.

  • Tim

    The rate of this decline, this “social experiment” at odds with how people have always lived, should be alarming and deeply disconcerting to anyone who cares about the compatibility of the culture we create for ourselves and our nature as humans.

    Despite callers who bring it up, Mr Klinenberg seems to minimize the convenience of “singletons” to the corporate world. We are increasingly commodified — packaged for ease of distribution on the market — for maximum convenience in the corporate economy. He treats this problem as something employers need to adapt to, but convenience to employers of employees’ single status is not only a disincentive in that regard, but in fact may be a leading CAUSE of the phenomenon. We should be deeply concerned about this inconvenient truth, this decay of one of the cornerstones of real wealth — the love and fellowship that is core to our humanity. (I believe Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone is far less sanguine on the issue of loneliness in America.)

    All that said, I question the definition of “living alone.” One caller extolled the virtues of living alone, then mentioned that her best friend lives next door. Another lives in a co-housing arrangement. Mr Klinenberg says living alone “is an urban phenomenon.” How alone are people living chock-a-block with their neighbors? Are their lives less social than those of a family of 10 living on hundreds of acres, going in to town once a week?

    • Guest

       I live in the middle of 1600 acres in the Sierra’s and I would NOT change anything. I cannot hear nor see another person. This is idealic and I would never change this. People are welcome to visit and I do go to town about once a week. After years of living in big cities, I consider this the greatest retirement home of all. I have horses, chickens, dogs and cats… a large garden, and fruit trees. What more do I need?

  • Cookhskpr

    I am “the worlds formost authority” on living single-tary

  • Beth

    Anyone ever stop and think of all the divorces that don’t happen because some folks know that they wouldn’t make a great spouse? The pain they avoid causing others? Anyone ever stop and think about all the good singles do?   Many have the time to volunteer for many causes, keep small businesses alive be it small cafe’s, organic markets, bike shops, book stores etc. Simply because they often have more disposable income.

    Growing up I remember the boarding houses that widows often had. Where single boarders paid for their own room, but ate communal meals etc. Being single is NOT the same thing as being a Hermit!

  • Hillary

    I am 48 and have lived alone most of my adult life. I tried living with a partner (I’m a lesbian) twice. It was against my better judgement and was primarily motivated by pressure over distance between my partner and me.
    The relationships suffered my issues. Other relationships have fared better when I am living alone. I still think a duplex would be ideal. I strongly feel that solitude is vital to my sanity and serenity. Privacy is primary to my ability to also build deep intimacy.
    I feel misunderstood often on this topic. I have been single for 3 years and miss the deep connection I now seek. However, I’m so very content in my home and ever more secure in my self-love and self-care.

  • SheriReho

    I am a 59-yo never-married woman who has lived alone my entire adult life (except for the first two years out of school when I had a roommate).  I absolutely made a conscious decision live alone.

    As an introvert, and also as a retiree in a new town, I have a small circle of  IRL (in real life) friends, but a large network of online firends.  I socialize weekly/biweekly with close friends and neighbors and daily with online friends.

    IMHO, there is still absolutely a stigma against singles. When I go out to eat alone, I sometimes get pandered to and have actually had servers come out and say they feel sorry for me “having” to eat alone. I also get attitude at some restaurants when I request a quiet booth vs. a two-top near the front door or kitchen (I like to read while I eat so I prefer quiet).

    There is also, as noted in the podcast, absolutely treatment toward singles by employers that is not required of married people.  I was made to work EVERY Friday after Thanksgiving and EVERY Christmas week for some years while my married cohorts enjoyed time off.  I kept documentation of this and eventually stood up to my boss about it and demanded fair treatment.

    I lived in the DC area for almost 40 years and I could never afford to buy a house, despite making a good living, because housing was so expensive and I only had a single income.  So many things in life are tailored to married folks, families, etc.  And many married folks don’t like to socialize with singles.

  • Daphne

    I liked what your guest said about a
    failure of marketing. Several years ago I thought that by the time I reached
    the age I am now (70), that big business would have recognized the huge opportunity
    to provide affordable community and quality living situations for older
    “singletons”. While there has been some progress in that area it has been very
    slow and hardly affordable. It scares me a little. Even though I am trying to
    plan for the day when I can no longer take care of myself, I worry about where
    I’ll end up. 

  • Sy2502

    I don’t mean to call anybody a liar, but I know several singles and as much as they’d like you to think they are alone by choice, and that they couldn’t be happier, in my experience they are not. Maybe they are trying to justify the way things turned out for them, or maybe they are fooling themselves, but they do not look happy to be alone. They look for friends and companionship in an almost maniacal way, they are uncomfortable around happy couples, and yes, they are quirky and neurotic. This is of course limited to my personal experience of the singles I know, and can’t extend it to everybody, but I still believe human beings are social beings, who are made for companionship.

  • Pkaspar

    I didn’t intend to return to living alone but I was less appealing than a new, younger wife.  BUT . . . a poem:  “Solitary Contentment”: (not properly arranged by lines but just saving space)
    Living alone I’ve learned to savor the warm embrace of the summer sun, the soft kiss of spring rain on my cheeks, the gentle touch of autumn breezes brushing ‘cross my arm, the inner glow of winter fires sending blushing laughter through my soul.     

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