The Rise of People Living Alone Has Led to More Sustainable Cities
Whatever you want to call people living alone — some go with solos, others singletons — the fact is there's a lot more of them than there used to be. In 1950, solos accounted for about 9 percent of all U.S. households; today that figure is roughly 28 percent. As sociologist Eric Klinenberg points out in his 2012 book Going Solo, one in seven American adults now lives alone, and the trend toward solitary living is truly global:
For the first time in human history, great numbers of people — at all ages, in all places, of every political persuasion — have begun settling down as singletons.
Solos may settle down in all places, but the places they seem to prefer most are central cities. That's significant, says Devajyoti Deka of the Alan M. Voorhees Transport Centre at Rutgers, because when it comes to housing and travel preferences, solos tend to live more sustainable lifestyles. The more sustainable people move into cities, the more sustainable those cities are likely to become.
"If solos continue to grow, even from cross-sectional data it appears that cities will be more sustainable," says Deka. "They are much less likely to live in single-family homes. They're more likely to live in apartments. They commute shorter distances. They spend less time commuting to work. They use public transit more often."
Indeed, Deka has tracked the behavioral trends of solos and found them to be far more sustainable than those of married people across the board. When it comes to housing, for instance, roughly half of solos live in rented dwellings compared to about a quarter of couples. While three-quarters of couples live in detached single-family homes that characterize suburban sprawl, that's only true for about 45 percent of solo men and 48 percent of solo women.
The travel data shows more of the same. Solos live about three miles closer to work than couples, on average, and are much more likely to commute by transit, with a roughly 6 to 7 percent transit share for solos versus about 3 percent for couples. Solos are less likely to travel anywhere by car, and while nearly all couple households own at least one automobile, that's only true for about 85 percent of solo households.