Living Alone and Loving It : The Rise of Singletons
Take a walk over to Liberty Village in Toronto and you will be confronted by a population teeming with solo dwellers. It has been described as a neighbourhood that “coddles the young single working professional.” This is representative of a growing trend across the country:
Almost one third of Canadian households are now single occupant.
In 2012, NYU Professor, Eric Klinenberg wrote a book called “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone” on this very topic. In it, he explores how this phenomenon is playing out all over the world.
In Stockholm, for example, 60% live alone and every single one of the people he interviewed began living alone in their late teens or early twenties. As soon as they were born, their parents put them on a waiting list for a small apartment to ensure that there would be one available by the time they graduated from high school.
Living alone is perceived as a vital part of growing up.
While it hasn’t always been as widely accepted in North America, social acceptance towards living alone has evolved from spinster to status symbol.
In 1957, University of Michigan psychology professors released a survey that examined American attitudes towards being single: 80% of those surveyed believed that people who preferred being unmarried were “sick,” “immoral,” or “neurotic.”
A recent article in the National Post however concluded that, “Living alone is no longer seen as a transitional purgatory endured only after divorce or the death of a spouse, but as a symbol of modern economic independence.”
So what is driving this change? A number of things really: Women (obviously), divorce, urbanization, communications, and parenting.
This is the one I find most fascinating. For most of human history, mothers and their infants have slept together. Then in 1964, along came a pediatrician named Benjamin Speck who published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, in which he advised parents to place newborns in rooms of their own. All of a sudden co-sleeping became a parenting no-no, “Sleeping alone is an important part of learning to be able to see oneself as an individual,” said Richard Ferber, inventor of the cry yourself to sleep method.
It goes beyond sleeping though. Parents do everything to promote the individual development of a child. Each child has their own bed, own room, own schedule. As Klinenberg notes in his book, “Kids do not belong to the same sports team, play the same instruments, or hang out with the same friends, so the family develops a schedule that allows each one to be dropped off and picked up on his or her own. Family life is organized around the needs and interests of each individual.”
The rise of one-person households has generated unprecedented demand for compact furniture, fridges with bigger freezers, single occupant rooms on cruise holidays, etc. Advertisers equally are beginning to recognize that a woman’s sole purpose in life is no longer to rush out, get married, and have kids.
There is no doubt that the traditional family unit of husband, wife, and two kids is changing irrevocably. This is yet another perspective to consider as we grapple with changing demographics of the Canadian population and attitudes towards these new households.