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The rise of the solo-dweller

Friday, May 9, 2014

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A woman on a sofa

Throughout the history of our species, we've always veered towards living as a collective, as opposed to toddling about alone. It offers us security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of companionship.

However, since the latter half of the 20th century, this seemingly conventional way of living has been the subject of a "remarkable social experiment", as Eric Kleinberg, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, put it in an article for the Guardian two years ago.

"For the first time in human history, great numbers of people – at all ages, in all places, of every political persuasion – have begun settling down as singletons," he wrote at the time.

"Despite the worldwide prevalence, living alone isn't really discussed, or understood. We aspire to get our own places as young adults, but fret about whether it's all right to stay that way, even if we enjoy it."

He’s written an interesting book about the phenomena. Entitled Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, the tome discusses how the rise in solo-dwellers has been a "transformative social experience".

It is challenging what we understand about ourselves and how we engage with those close to us, it is reshaping the way we build cities and the strategies we deploy to build better economies, and it is altering "the way we become adults", Dr Kleinberg argues persuasively.

The rise in the number of people living alone in industrialised and wealthy economies is not necessarily symptomatic of the disintegration of the family unit, but more to do with progress across the board. As a consequence of living longer, for example, life notable stages like getting married and having kids are 'deferred'.

Therefore, while previous generations may well have been married with 2.4 children and a mortgage by the time they were in their mid-20s, today it is perfectly acceptable to be renting a property on your own and have no dependents.

Moreover, those who find themselves in such a position have no qualms about it and do not see it as a negative. In most cases it is an active choice. When so much of life is defined by living with others, it seems more than rational to want some 'me time' in between your childhood and when you decide to settle down.

Find more interesting articles to read.

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