Eric Klinenberg, Going Solo
Explores America’s biggest demographic shift since the baby boomers
“Human societies,” Eric Klinenberg writes, “at all times and places, have organized themselves around the will to live with others, not alone.” Until now, that is. People who live alone make up 28 percent of all U.S.households, and the numbers are even higher in countries like Swedenand Japan. Contemporary solo dwellers are the subject of the NYU sociology professor’s Going Solo, which argues that this particular class of people constitutes the nation’s biggest demographic shift since the baby boomers. It’s not exactly a modest claim.
So who are these solo dwellers? Mostly women, mostly middle-aged and mostly clustered in metropolitan areas. But numbers tell only a part of the story. People live alone for many reasons, and they don’t always live alone voluntarily. Klinenberg gives a smart historical overview of a trend that begins with 18th-century rooming houses and sweeps forward to include milestones like the feminist movement and Helen Gurley Brown’s “Sex and the Single Girl,” which glamorized solo living as a must for young women on the make. (“Roommates,” Brown told her readers in 1962, “are for sorority girls. You need an apartment alone, even if it’s over a garage.”)
Brown herself acknowledged that living alone required fortitude — and indeed, Klinenberg takes a look at the emotional and financial tolls of solo dwelling: the risks of isolation, the difficulties of aging alone and the lack of a domestic safety net. It’s not all Carrie-Bradshaw-and-her-closet-of-Manolos out there. Klinenberg does an adroit job of convincing us that there’s a real cultural shift underway, and that it has consequences we’ve only begun to imagine.