Book review – Going Solo

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg looks at the implications of single-person households in his latest book.


(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

GOING SOLO: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone
(The Penguin Press)
Eric Klinenberg

In 1950, just four million Americans lived alone, mostly in “the sprawling Western states—Alaska, Montana, and Nevada—that attracted migrant workingmen,” writes Klinenberg. For most of them, it was a transitional period along the road to settling down and starting families. Those four million represented 9% of U.S. households. Today, 28% of households are single-person. In fact, these households are more common than nuclear families or platonic roommates, and in a statistical tie with childless couples. What’s more, singles are increasingly urban and, surprisingly, they tend to live alone for a long time.

Though Klinenberg is a sociologist, some of the most interesting implications here are economic, affecting both the workplace and the broader marketplace. Single women, for example, are the fastest-growing group of homebuyers, and not just as a result of financial empowerment; Klinenberg finds evidence that for many women, home-ownership marks the pivot into adulthood that was once the typical function of marriage. Add the fact that many fewer elderly widows are moving in with their kids than did in previous decades, and the effects on the housing market become significant.