Does Living Alone Have a Negative Influence on Psychological Well-Being?
The relationship between living alone and anger, loneliness, and depression
Posted October 5, 2011
A growing share of the adult population in the United States lives alone. In some cities, such as New York, nearly 5 out of every 10 households are occupied by a single person. Some have suggested that the increasing number of people living alone signals a broader change in American society, whereby individuals are less socially connected and engaged with others in the community. In his article titled "Bowling Alone," Robert Putnam argues that civic engagement, which includes church attendance and participation in community organizations, has declined over the past three decades. Demographic trends such as falling fertility rates and decreasing family size are also likely to play a role.
Regardless of the causes, this trend raises an interesting question: In what ways does living alone affect our psychological well-being? This post explores how living alone is linked with the experience of different emotions, including anger, loneliness, and depression.
Results from population studies suggest that adults who live alone feel angry far less often than people who live with others. One advantage of living alone is that there are fewer opportunities to fight or argue with someone. Living with a person who is critical or demanding raises the likelihood of facing negative interactions, which represent the negative side of social exchanges. Negative interactions include spending time with someone who gets on your nerves or is irritating to you, or a person who places to many demands on you. Some psychologists have found that the absence of negative interactions is more protective against the experience of negative affect than the presence of supportive social relationships.
People who live alone tend to report more frequent feelings of loneliness relative to those in other living arrangements. Although living alone might lower one's chances of getting into an argument, it can also be an obstacle to connect and interact with others-and to form meaningful, intimate relationships.
This can be more of an issue for certain groups of people. For instance, those with physical limitations like arthritis or stroke might have difficulty going through the necessary motions to leave the house to meet friends or family, or to participate in other groups or activities outside the household.
Also, the more time one spends alone, the more likely one is to feel lonely. One of the main reasons for any negative influence of living alone on psychological well-being is that people who live alone tend to spend a greater amount of time by themselves. Spending time with other people might increase the likelihood of negative interactions, but it's also crucial in preventing loneliness by promoting our sense of social support.
The influence of living alone on feelings of depression is less clear. A few studies have shown that older adults who live alone, especially men, are more likely to report feeling depressed than those who live with a spouse or other family members. Also, the recently widowed who might be living alone for the first time in several years are at greater risk of depression than those who have lived alone for a longer period of time.
In conclusion, the extent to which living alone impacts psychological well-being seems to be dependent upon individual characteristics (e.g. age, gender, health status) as well characteristics of our social lives (e.g. time spent alone, participation in social activities outside the household, the presence or absence of supportive relationships).