Thursday, June 27, 2019

econlife - Who Is Likely to Live Alone? by Elaine Schwartz


Sort of like bookends, we tend to live alone before we are 30 and after we reach 65. However, many of us are “unpartnered.”



Who Lives Alone?

Among those of us who live alone, 58% have never been married, 21% are divorced, and 14% have been widowed. So yes, we are talking about a lot of people. One-tenth of all Americans and slightly more than one-quarter of all households are singles.

An NYU sociologist tells us that living alone is the logical result of four trends:

1. feminism
2. living in cities
3. communications technology
4. longevity

Pew Research meanwhile focuses on marriage, income, and education.

Marriage is one reason that the number of singles is up. In 2018, the average American woman married at 27.8 and her mate was 29.8. She is almost eight years older than her mother and grandmother when they married. Also, there are more people who never marry:




For men, affluence is a singles predictor. Below, $40,000 a year, less than one half of all men are married. Above, the figures climb. And once we get to $75,000-$100,000, two-thirds of all men have tied that knot.

From here, education makes a difference. People with bachelor degrees tend to have partners more than those who do not:



Where Do We Live Alone?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, singles are concentrated in 21 urban areas where more than 1/3 of every household is occupied by one person. One reason could be that all but one have a lower cost of living. Another relates to the widowed population:




An interesting single household fact: In 2017, Utah (19.6%) had the fewest single person households. At 45.2% Washington D.C had the most.

Our Bottom Line: Consumption Expenditures

Living alone shifts how we spend our money. It changes the consumption components of the GDP.

A BLS study from 2011 concluded that except for healthcare, singles in their 20s (especially late 20s) spend “considerably” more per capita on food and clothing, housing, and education than comparably aged married couples.

A more recent but less academic report looked at the bigger picture. It told us that single people take more vacations, are a “gold mine” for home entertainment equipment, going to the cinema, and dining out. And we should note that in China, Single’s Day has become a massive event.

Where are we? Affecting where we live, what we buy, and how we spend our time, the singles trend is a major economic phenomenon.

My sources and more: The Hill was a good starting point for the big picture on singles. From there, it made sense to find more on how singles spend and where the unpartnered live. Then, for further insight and detail, I suggest this New Yorker article, Pew, here and here, and this BLS study.


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.