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August 29, 2013

More Americans are living alone, Census Bureau report finds

LOS ANGELES — A growing share of Americans live alone, despite the economic woes lingering after the recession, a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows.

People living alone made up more than 27 percent of American households last year - a marked increase over the 17 percent who did so in 1970.

“The rise of living alone is the greatest social change of the last 50 years,” said Eric Klinenberg, author of “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.” The Census Bureau report underscores that despite the costs, “Americans will pay a premium to have a place of their own,” he said.

Researchers offered several reasons for the long-standing trend: Americans are waiting until later in life to marry, stretching their years of singlehood. As a result, married couples have become much less common, dropping from 71 percent to 49 percent of American households between 1970 and 2012, the new report shows.

Elderly people are also spending more years alone. “Adults have been able to live longer, and as they’re healthier, they can stay in their own homes instead of moving in with a family member” or heading to a nursing home, said Jonathan Vespa, one of the demographers who wrote the report.

The trends might seem puzzling in light of the recession and its enduring effects, including the recent surge in young adults living with their parents. Another report, from the Pew Research Center, shows the downturn did, indeed, seem to dampen the odds that people ages 18 to 31 would live alone. But the numbers fell only slightly - from 8 percent down to 7 percent between 2007 and 2012. Over that same period, singletons increased as a share of American households, Census Bureau data show.

Living alone in South Los Angeles has forced Fermin Vasquez to save money by eating out less and cooking at home more often. But having a place of his own is worth it, the 26-year-old said.

“I can clean the house whenever I want,” Vasquez said. “I can have friends over. My girlfriend comes over more often. If I go out at night, I don’t have to worry about waking up my roommate.”

His words are echoed by Connie Perez, 37, who started living alone in Pasadena, Calif., about four years ago. “You have the freedom to do what you want to do,” said Perez, a partner at an accounting firm. Perez had never lived alone before, and it was scary at first, she said. “But the time alone - you can’t put a price on that.”

Klinenberg believes technology has helped drive the change, allowing people to connect online while living alone. People living alone are actually more likely than married people to spend time with friends and neighbors or volunteer in their community, he added.

“Any time you feel like it, you can go out your door and get involved in social activities,” said Kim Calvert, editor-in-chief of Singular Magazine. The only benefit Calvert can see to sharing a home, she said, is sharing expenses. “Being single isn’t about being lonely.”

Klinenberg says it was predictable that economic trouble would not stop Americans from “going solo,” since recessions tend to drag down the marriage rate. A recent analysis by Ohio’s Bowling Green State University found that the marriage rate had hit a record low as of two years ago.

“Living alone is not weird anymore,” said Michael J. Rosenfeld, associate professor of sociology at Stanford University. The fact that it has persisted through tough times, he said, “is a demonstration of how much the value of independence has grown.”

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