Dec 28, 2023 - Health

More people live alone in nation built for families

Data: IPUMS via Our World in Data; Note: Living alone includes those in one-person households that are not group quarters ; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: IPUMS via Our World in Data; Note: Living alone includes those in one-person households that are not group quarters ; Chart: Axios Visuals

The overall share of people living alone in the U.S. has been inching up, per the U.S. Census.

Why it matters: Living alone can be tough in a country built for families. And it can have consequences for mental and physical health — especially among older Americans.

What’s happening: Several social and demographic trends are converging to increase to isolation.

  • Over the last 50 years, the marriage rate in the U.S. has dropped by nearly 60%, and many people are also delaying marriage into their late 30s, early 40s or beyond. That means more people in their 20s and 30s are living alone.
  • Among adults 60 and older, kinlessness is on the rise, and that trend will likely continue for younger generations as more people opt not to start families.

Zoom out: Although more people are living alone, cities and towns are still primarily set up for families.

  • Housing is becoming more expensive in cities, where many younger single people might like to live to find community, CNN reports.
  • And housing in more suburban areas is usually parceled into homes built for a family of four.

The stakes: Living alone may have more dire consequences for older adults.

  • Research shows that older adults who are isolated face a greater risk of mortality — whether that’s because no one is around to help in case of an accident or a fall, or because the loneliness can prompt depression, anxiety and even accelerate cognitive decline.

Reality check: Living alone and being lonely are not the same thing, says Eric Kim, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia.

  • Many people can live socially fulfilling, happy lives alone — and do so by choice.

Still, the rise of living solo is a social change that is likely to continue, especially among older adults — the population that faces the most risk while living alone.

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