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9 Myths About Living Alone

Is the single life a symptom of social fragmentation or individual narcissism? Don't you believe it

3. Older people living alone wish they could move in with their kids. "They Don't Want to Live With You, Either" trumpeted the headline of a 2009 New York Times article, which found that older people preferred what gerontologists call "intimacy at a distance" with their families. Klinenberg's interviews produced some decidedly caustic quotes, such as the 80-year-old woman who said of her daughter and son-in-law, "They both drive me kinda crazy." And about her son's children: "Their 11-year-old is cute, sweet, but incredibly manipulative. Not to be trusted an inch. I stay out of their way for the most part."  

4. Women who live alone are dying to get married. Not quite. The entry of large numbers of women into the labor force has made the single life a much more attractive option than matrimony with an unsatisfactory partner. Older women, particularly widows who have nursed a dying spouse, often decline their boyfriends' marriage proposals; they're "more interested in having someone to go out with than having someone to come home to," Klinenberg found.

5. Older people living alone are lonely, unhappy and isolated. As if! A study of 3,000 Americans ages 57 to 85 discovered that those who lived alone are more likely to socialize with friends and neighbors than their peers who were married.

6. Older people living alone are frequently poor and desperate. Thanks to Social Security and private pensions, "Americans over 65 are in much better financial shape than they were in 1950," reports Klinenberg. Back then, only 1 in 10 of them lived alone; today it is1 in 3.

7. Americans are more likely to live alone than people in other countries, because of our national faith in individualism and self-reliance. Au contraire. The four countries with the highest rates of living alone are Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. One of the reasons so many Scandinavians live alone is that they enjoy extensive social services that make it easier: "Living alone is a collective achievement," Klinenberg observes.

8. People living alone consume more of the planet's resources. Because living alone is largely an urban phenomenon, Klinenberg asserts, singletons living in multiple dwellings that use mass transit or walk have a much smaller carbon footprint than a family of four with two cars in a 2,500-square-foot house in the suburbs.

9. Aging alone leaves people extra-vulnerable if their health fails. 'Fraid not. Single people who have built strong social networks — and most of them do — often turn to their friends to support them in times of illness. In addition, says Klinenberg, older people are much healthier and more active today than in the past — one of the reasons they feel free to live alone.

You may also like: Where to meet great singles. >>

Wendy Smith, a contributing editor of the American Scholar, writes frequently for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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