Monday, February 13, 2012

More People Living Alone in the United States

Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson

The number of people in the United States who live alone continues to climb and stands now at 27%, still lower than that of most Western European countries, where Sweden's 47% hits the high mark, noted an op ed in the New York Times February 4, on the basis of U.S. 2010 Census reports.

The author, Eric Klinenberg, argues that "living alone can make it easier to be social, because single people have more free time, absent family obligations, to engage in social activities."
What I find interesting about this
sentence is the distinct line drawn between being with one's family and engaging in social activities. For many people, being with their family, including their extended family, is the heart of their social life. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, our family lived within half an hour of our grandparents' houses. We saw our grandparents often. We vacationed with our grandparents. We went to parties of the extended family or parties involving the extended family plus friends. Aren't all of these social activities? Isn't the family dinner a social activity?

It is true, as the author notes, that families today are less social within their own homes. Technologies such as TV, ipods, and computers have pulled children and parents away from the family dinner table and familial interaction. Smaller nuclear families also make for less interaction and fun in the house. The fact that 77% of all married mothers with children under the age of 15 work outside the home has drastically reduced the number of meals eaten together for families and in some cases eliminated the family meal altogether. And, with the far greater geographical dispersion of extended families since World War II, visiting grandparents and aunts and uncles can involve air travel or long car rides and is mostly reserved for holidays. These conditions, sadly, could be causing an under-socialization within the family, hurling members outside of it to seek friendship, comfort, and fun.

Nevertheless, I take issue with the idea that family and social life are mutually exclusive. The author notes that living alone "comports with modern values. It promotes freedom, personal control and self-realization — all prized aspects of contemporary life"--"values" that also add to the centrifugal forces pulling at the family today.

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