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612: Living Alone

Have you ever lived alone?


Full episode script

In the 1920s, in America, about 5 percent of people lived alone. By the 1950s, that number had gone up, but only barely. In Canada in the 1950s, about 7 percent of households were occupied by just one person.

 

Today, those numbers have gone up very dramatically. 28.2 percent of Canadian households were individuals living alone, according to a 2016 census report. In that same year, Finland reported 21 percent of people were living alone, and Australia reported “nearly one in four households” were one-person households.  A 2012 Census report stated that 27 percent of American households were similarly singletons. The UK clocks in with 12.3 percent of households in 2014.

 

In other words, living alone is increasingly common across a wide swath of first-world, developed countries — though not in all economically advantaged countries. The UN has a great two-page chart in a 2017 report that shows the distribution of household sizes across dozens of countries if there’s a specific one you want to look up.

 

Even in places where living alone still isn’t the norm, average household size has been going down. Quote:  

“In France, for example, the average household size fell from 3.1 persons per household in 1968 to 2.3 in 2011. In Kenya, it declined from 5.3 persons per household in 1969 to 4.0 in 2014.”

 

What none of these statistics address is if living alone is a choice… but from what I could find, for a large swath of these single-person households, it is. As one Princeton University paper put it, quote:

Two major themes that are repeated within the literature that explores the reasons for the increase in one-person households are the idea that Americans prefer “privacy” in living arrangements, and that increasing economic resources are often used to “purchase” this privacy in the form of living alone. Beresford and Rivlin (1966) interpreted the increase in older adults living alone to be part of the same trend as for younger people; both groups prefer privacy if they can afford it.

 

If it’s a choice or not, there is always the risk of loneliness when living alone, which can have a big impact on life. As Pew Research Center quoted:

Jerry Fried, who is in his 50s, said “living alone is what you make of it. It can be very fulfilling, it can be very lonely. I can get lazy and lie in bed all day. And then I think, ‘I have to get out and meet some people and see some things.’ You have to work at it.”

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.