Living alone

A record number of Americans now live alone. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden takes a look at what’s behind this phenomenon.

“Well … first the numbers. This really surprised me. Nationally 28 percent of Americans now live alone. That is a record. In some areas like Manhattan in New York City, it’s 50 percent of those folks living alone.

“Now, certainly a significant part of this has been the economy. People are not perhaps as willing to get married because they’re worried about having a job. They don’t want to get married and have children if their job future is somewhat bleak. So, that’s certainly a short-run factor.

“But I think there have been some longer-run factors. For example, the majority of those who are living alone are women between the ages of 45 and 65. And, of course, there you have divorce and widowhood as potential reasons. But the fastest-growing segment of those living alone are young single women. And what many of those women, of course, are doing is they’re delaying marriage or partnerships because they’re going on to get more education. Also, in some sense for some people, the work environment today — which in many cases, if you have a challenging job, it’s almost a 24/7 work environment — is not conducive, for example, to partnerships or marriage.

“So, this is a big change in our society. Those living alone now spend about $2 trillion. And what you’re beginning to see … are marketers in businesses focusing on those folks who choose to live alone.”

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