What The Childfree & Living Solo Have in Common

I recently saw a stat that surprised me in the TIME article,  “Living Alone is the New Norm.”  Latest 2011 U.S. Census data tell us that 28% of Americans live alone.  That number means they are now “tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type.”  The meaning of “Childless” here includes …..any home that does not have kids, e.g., childfree, childless not by choice, empty nesters, elders, roommates, etc.  Is it a bad thing that there are so many people living alone?  Some experts like Harvard psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz think that “increased aloneness” and trends of greater social isolation are damaging people’s health and happiness in the U.S.

Others say there is little evidence the rise in living alone is making Americans more lonely. “Reams” of research tell us that it’s the “quality, not the quantity of social interactions that best predicts loneliness.”  As social neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo says in his book, Loneliness, what matters is “not whether we live alone but whether we feel alone.

Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, and author of Going Solo: the Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, did over 300 interviews with people who live alone, and studied the research literature, and he thinks that “most singletons are not lonely souls.” In fact, they enjoy a “thriving public culture.”

Klinenberg also thinks that living alone serves a purpose–it helps us pursue sacred modern values: individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization.

When I read this, it hit me that these same things are reasons why people decide to have no children. Many, many childfree value their freedom. Lots like to feel in control of their lives. Any many value personal development and growth, and feel raising children would prevent them from making this a priority in their lives.

Living alone, Klinenberg says, also gives us time and space for “restorative solitude.”  In response to the February On-the-Ground question about how being childfree has had positive impacts on people’s lives, many spoke to how it gives them solo time they need and love.

Klinenberg also thinks that living alone can help people discover what gives them meaning and purpose. And so does being childfree. We know that parenthood is not our path to purpose, and we find it in a myriad of other ways..while living alone…or not.

Have you ever lived alone? What was your experience? Do you agree more with Olds and Schwartz, or Cacioppo and Klinenberg?

6 thoughts on “What The Childfree & Living Solo Have in Common

  1. I lived alone for portions of my single life. It was just fine. I agree that it prompted more personal growth.

  2. I saw Klinenberg interviewed recently on C-span about the book you described.


    I have it on my list of books to get fromt he library as soon as the waiting list dies down.

    As for me, I have lived alone for more than 25 years. I find it very comforting to know that my apartment will be just like the way I left it when I return (except for the time it was broken into). In the 1980s, when I was in college an soon thereafter, I had a roommate. But I had my first taste of living alone when my last one (after college) moved out a month before I did. I liked it and was eager to return to it one day soon, within a year.

    I already knew I was childfree so living with children was never a possibility, only living alone versus living with a wife or significant other, something I do not rule out but find rather unlikely. I like living alone.

  3. I love living alone and am lucky enough to have a partner who feels the same way. We both love having our own space to invite the other into and enjoy the lack of tension over compromise that we felt in previous relationships. We’re both employed in creative kinds of work and find our quiet time and space essential for that. I’m with Klinenburg all the way!

  4. I can’t imagine having children. My cat messes up enough stuff in my house, I don’t need children to do that too.

    I lived on my own for six years before moving in with my partner a couple years ago. Having that alone time was freeing but did make me miss human interaction but solitary time is also worth it’s weight in childfree gold.

    1. I lived alone after graduate school, and did I love it. Later I decided to cohabitate with serious SO who I eventually married, and even though we live together, we give each other lots of space, and that works for us~

  5. I am married now, and have lived with my DH for almost a decade… and we STILL joke about how glorious it was when we lived alone for several years each before we met each other.(All very tongue in cheek…we adore each other and would not want to live without each other NOW…)

    I loved living alone, it felt like the ultimate freedom. As the comment in your article states :what matters is “not whether we live alone but whether we feel alone.“ I had a neurotic cat and a thriving social life…and my pristine and tiny little apartment in the city was my oasis of calm. This may have something to do with my slightly introverted personality, I ADORE alone time, but it also gives me a sense of calm, that if I ever was in a position to have to live alone again in the future, that I have already done it and I actually…LOVED IT.

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