Book Review: On demographic transitions to solo living
On the occasion of the Frye Literary Festival in Moncton this week, I suggest a good and relevant social & cultural studies book. Titled “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone” (The Penguin Press, 2012) it is written by Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University. Going Solo describes the rise in living alone as the biggest modern social change that we’ve yet to name or identify.
The book opens by addressing the controversy that the issue has stirred in Western societies. Indeed, over the centuries, living alone has been at times a stigma, at times a sign of individuals perusing high moral standards, such as monks in ascetic orders. Today, solo living is a completely new phenomenon – mostly urban – though it remains misunderstood. The stigma has been largely erased due simply to the sheer number of people living alone in Western countries; as high as 50% of the adult population in Scandinavian countries and steadily rising in Canada and the U.S. where it hovers at around 30% of the adult population. The numbers are staggering especially when one considers that the transition has occurred in less than 50 years.
Who are these millions of people? , asks the author. The answer, mostly so-called middle class professionals (but the age range goes from twentysomethings to seniors). Why do the most privileged people on earth use their resources to separate from one another? The answer, he proposes, is a reflection of values that many view as inherently American: freedom, personal control, and self realization — as well as (and not necessarily paradoxically) both solitude and connection with others.
He also examines the effect this change is having on cities. In fact, the author notes, people who live alone are more likely than married people to take advantage of urban amenities, to go out at night, to attend public events and engage in other activities that animate the streets. They also are more likely to volunteer with civic organizations.
In conclusion, the issue of solo living remains controversial and it has huge implications for our societies. This book is highly recommended reading and it should make for interesting dinner party discussions.