If “Living Alone is the New Norm,” Then It Is Time for Change

March 7, 2012 § 9 Comments

Living solo is the first of the “ten ideas that are changing life,” reads the cover of The Time Magazine. Living alone is a platform for self-realization, freedom, and social engagement according to sociologist Klinenberg in The Time as well as in his superb new book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Klinenberg adds that  living alone is easier with robust welfare policies and among younger generations.

As we appreciate the genuine appeal of living alone, let’s not forget the struggles of living alone in countries with very limited and scattered public services such as the United States. These struggles emerge especially when we live alone in older age. As Klinenberg warns in Going Solo, “ “the ordinary challenges of growing old […] can become extraordinary hardships for someone who spends most of the time alone” (p.17).

Drawing from my  two-year ethnography of 47 adults 75+ living alone in San Francisco and from a good decade of studying aging in America, I further contend that living alone in older age in urban America can often become an UNSUSTAINABLE  ENTERPRISE constellated by UNNECESSARY  SUFFERING. The lack of social policies supporting the condition of living alone in older age makes the condition unsustainable. The absence of public coverage of long-term care, the limited number of public social workers and case managers, and the shortage of affordable housing hinder one’s ability to live alone.  If we add ageism, segregation by age, and the prevailing ideology that promotes self-reliance rather than interdependence, we start having an idea of how tough the “social experiment” of living solo gets the last years of our life.

It is time to leverage the public attention on GOING Solo to create social policies finally allowing Americans to successfully  STAY solo in older age. AMEN!


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