For the first time in history, great numbers of people – at all ages in all places, of every political persuasion – have begun settling down as singletons. ~ Eric Klinenberg
It was the Greek poet Theocritus who declared that “man will ever stand in need of man”, and the great Roman emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius who insisted that “human beings are social animals”.
Yet more and more, the people in our society and in all countries around the world, are choosing to adopt a strange, never-before-witnessed lifestyle, on a very large scale … that of living alone.
I was fortunate enough to read American sociologist and scholar Eric Klinenberg’s book “Going Solo” recently, in my trip to Spain. Although quite a dry and uninteresting read at times, Klinenberg’s book was also very revealing, presenting an army of intriguing and eye-opening statistics about the heavily stigmatized notion of living alone. (If you’re not a statistics person, feel free to skip to the next section). According to Klinenberg’s research:
- In the 1950’s, 22% of American adults were single, and 4 million lived alone. In 2012, more than 50% of American adults were single, and 31 million lived alone.
- In Stockholm (2012) 60% of all households had just 1 occupant.
- In the US (2012), solo dwellers constituted 28% of all households.
- Most solo dwellers in the US are primarily women (about 17 million), compared to the 14 million solo men. Most are middle-aged (35 – 64 years).
- In the 1950’s 500,000 young adults (18-34 years) lived alone. In 2012 5,000,000 lived alone.
- The 4 countries with the highest rate of people living alone are Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. 40-45% of all households in these countries have just 1 person.
- In 1996 an estimated 153 million people lived alone throughout the world. In 2006, an estimated 202 million people lived alone – an amazing 33% increase in a single decade.
What an astonishing social and cultural shift! Whereas once solitary confinement was given to criminals as a punishment, these days more and more people are actually seeking it out. The question we need to ask now is why? What on earth for?
THE CULT OF THE INDIVIDUAL
In our literature, any story of the complete isolation, either physical or psychological, of a man from his fellowman, such as the story of Robison Crusoe before he found a human footprint on the beach, is regarded as essentially a horror story. ~ David Potter
It was Austrian born economist Joseph Schumpeter who was one of the first people to predict the fall of the “bourgeois family”, and the rise in free-thinking men and women who would value their privacy and solitude above traditional family and societal structures.
We live in an age that French sociologist Emile Durkheim defines as the “Cult of the Individual”, a society that essentially revolved around “I” and “me” and “my” desires for freedom, flexibility and personal choice. As German sociologists Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim point out:
For the first time in history the individual is becoming the basic unit of social reproduction.
Call it egocentric, or navel-gazing, but these days we have become our own gods in the sense that our lives revolve around “my career”, “my happiness”, “my image”, “my facebook status”, “my success”. Our lives revolve around ourselves. We no longer care about chivalrously living to serve the King, the people, the country, or the god.