Going Solo

An RWJF Investigator studies social isolation in American life

    • September 12, 2013

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, examines social isolation and the growing trend of living alone. Author Eric Klinenberg, PhD, wrote the book with funding from the RWJF Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research program.

Dates of Project: September 2004—September 2010

Description: In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single and four million of them lived alone, accounting for 9 percent of all households. Today, more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 32 million (about one out of every seven adults) live alone.

 “The rise in people living alone is the biggest social change in the last 60 years.”—Eric Klinenberg

Although social isolation has negative physical and mental health consequences, including a greater risk of dying, not everyone who lives alone is socially isolated. The subset of the population at risk needs to be identified and programs and policies developed to support them.

Klinenberg studied social isolation and the experience of living alone at different ages. He interviewed some 300 people in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area who lived alone, observed their environments and neighborhoods, and reviewed relevant research.

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, published by Penguin Press in 2012, is the culmination of his research. The book received international attention.

As reported in Going Solo:

  • Living alone is “shockingly common,” both in the United States and around the world. Klinenberg calls it “a remarkable social experiment” and one of the most profound social changes in modern history.
  • While social isolation is a serious health problem, most people who live alone do not become socially isolated. In fact, they are more likely than married people to be socially active, spend time with friends and neighbors, visit public places, and volunteer. People at highest risk are men and elderly people.
  • The lack of accessible and affordable housing and the lack of high-quality health services for individuals living alone is emerging as a policy crisis. Local programs to reach vulnerable, isolated residents are especially susceptible to budget cuts during economic hard times.

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