The Living Arrangement That is the New Normal: Do You Know What It Is?

Is this the new standard of full adulthood?

Posted Nov 14, 2010

Think about the many different living arrangements in the United States today. There is the nuclear family household, extended family households, pairs or groups of friends living together, and many more. Can you guess the living arrangement that is considered the new normal?

If you are not sure, let me offer a few hints:

  • People who live in this type of household are mostly middle-aged
  • It is a very stable household type
  • People who live this way are often very social

The living arrangement that is the new normal is living solo. In fact, the Boston Globe article from which I drew the facts I just described is titled, "The new normal: living alone." It relates the work of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, and in a totally refreshing way. Instead of the doom and gloom that has characterized so many other articles on the rise of 1-person households (such as this one that I wrote about previously), this story from a few days ago is very positive.

Three points that I especially appreciated were:

  1. Klinenberg considers living solo to be "our emergent standard measure of full adulthood." Imagine that - what makes you an adult is not getting married but living on your own.
  2. He also sees "living alone as a choice, not a form of exile."
  3. Instead of moaning about all the lonely single people, the article ends with this quote from Klinenberg: "There's nothing lonelier than being in a bad marriage."

Other scholars, too, are recognizing the significance of the growing popularity of solo living, which extends far beyond the U.S. For instance, there is now a Solo-Living Research Network, with a webpage, membership page, and list of publications. Under "network aims," the first goal listed is "to share studies investigating the diversity of solo livers." That's promising, too. From the very outset, this group is recognizing that lots of different kinds of people live solo, and for many different reasons.

[The picture is of a funky house in downtown Santa Barbara, with three stories built on a base of just 20 feet by 20 feet.]