Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

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With eye-opening statistics, original data, and vivid portraits of people who live alone, renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg upends conventional wisdom to deliver the definitive take on how the rise of going solo is transforming the American experience.
            Klinenberg shows that most single dwellers—whether in their twenties or eighties—are deeply engaged in social and civic life. There's even evidence that people ...

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Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

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Overview

With eye-opening statistics, original data, and vivid portraits of people who live alone, renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg upends conventional wisdom to deliver the definitive take on how the rise of going solo is transforming the American experience.
            Klinenberg shows that most single dwellers—whether in their twenties or eighties—are deeply engaged in social and civic life. There's even evidence that people who live alone enjoy better mental health and have more environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Drawing on more than three hundred in-depth interviews, Klinenberg presents a revelatory examination of the most significant demographic shift since the baby boom and offers surprising insights on the benefits of this epochal change.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tackling the growing phenomenon of living alone, sociologist Klinenberg (Heat Wave) examines the roots of the trend in the modern cult of the individual, the feminist liberation from the “burden of the ‘women’s role’ in marriage,” and the Greenwich Village bohemians of the early 20th century. Now, with divorce rates soaring and employment stability at a low, Westerners have gotten used to moving fluidly among cities, jobs, and partners, putting off marriage. At the same time, young people have reframed solo dwelling as a first step into adult independence, shaking some of its old stigma. Klinenberg portrays a number of young urban professionals who enjoy the good life and stay hyperconnected through social media; middle-aged divorcés with little faith in marriage and a fierce desire to protect their independence; widows and widowers forging new networks in assisted living facilities. On the flip side of the coin are the isolated and the poor, homebound by disabilities, forced into single-room occupancy dwellings by poverty, addiction, or disease. With such wide-ranging lifestyles, singletons often find it hard to band together to promote their social and political causes. Still, they share a number of common difficulties, and Klinenberg takes an optimist’s look at how society could make sure singles—young and old, rich and poor—can make the connections that support them in their living spaces and beyond. (Feb.)
Slate.com

“Klinenberg convincingly argues that the convergence of mass urbanization, communications technology, and liberalized attitudes has driven this trend.”

BookPage

“[Klinenberg] leavens his copious array of statistics with dozens of anecdotes about individuals who live alone either by choice or by circumstance...This book is a catalog of possibilities.”

Christian Science Monitor

“Thought-provoking… Mr. Klinenberg argues that singletons comprise a kind of shadow population that’s misunderstood by policymakers and our culture writ large. Going Solo is an attempt to fill in the blanks – to explain the causes and consequences of living alone, and to describe what it looks in everyday life…. Klinenberg renders [these] stories vividly but also with nuance.”

Associated Press Staff

 “This book takes a wide-ranging look at a topic that applies to many of us, even if we don't realize it.”

Newsday

 “Cliché-shattering.”

The Atlantic

“[Going Solo] serves as a good reminder that single living is alive and well.”

Bookforum

“As Klinenberg shows, this country is getting more single by the minute. The facts are astonishing.”

New York Observer

Going Solo is invigoratingly open-minded.”

The National Post

“Klinenberg’s research is meticulous…Going Solo makes much of the distinction between being alone and feeling alone, between desiring company and craving personal space. Klinenberg debunks the notion that living alone is always a transitional phase en route to domestic bliss with a partner or spouse.”

Library Journal
John Donne ("No man is an island") and evidence of the "marriage advantage" to the contrary, Klinenberg (sociology, New York Univ.; Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago) paints a compelling picture of the new trend toward "singletons." Not much has been written about the fact that more than 50 percent of Americans are now single, with 28 percent of the population (mostly women) actually living alone. Klinenberg identifies four circumstances that have allowed this to happen: recognition of women's rights; vastly improved communication systems; the growth of cities; and longer life spans. Where solitary time and exile were once considered punishments, people on their own today enjoy the personal and intellectual satisfactions that come from being self-reliant—something Emerson and Thoreau recognized centuries ago. VERDICT With articles in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Slate and appearances on the radio program This American Life, Klinenberg is at ease in both scholarly and popular milieus, and his book is recommended for libraries and individuals in both worlds.—Ellen Gilbert, Princeton, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Klinenberg (Sociology/New York Univ.; Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media, 2007, etc.) explores why "more than 50 percent of American adults are single"--and why the usually prefer to live that way. Solo living appears to be a global phenomenon that has skyrocketed over the past decade. The author examines both ends of the age spectrum in an attempt to understand the social implication of this trend. He finds that among relatively affluent young adults in the 25-to-34 age bracket, living solo is seen as a rite of passage into adulthood--a period allowing more sexual freedom, a chance to explore relationships without commitment and a major focus on career building. A similar increase in solitary living is becoming the norm among the elderly, where one in three people over 65 live alone--compared to one in 10 in 1950. This book is an outgrowth of a study conducted by Klinenberg following the publication of his book Heat Wave (2003), which investigated the tragic deaths of senior citizens during the extraordinary heat wave in Chicago in 1995. Interviewing elderly Manhattan residents who live alone, the author found that they preferred this to dependence on their children because of their strong belief in self-reliance. They reject the alternative of assisted living as prohibitively expensive and deplore the conditions in most nursing homes. Klinenberg suggests that public support is needed to provide affordable, urban assisted-living facilities in which the elderly can maintain their independence for as long as possible. An optimistic look at shifting social priorities that need not threaten our fundamental values.
Suki Casanave
Going Solo examines a dramatic demographic trend: the startling increase in adults living alone. Along the way, the book navigates some rough and complicated emotional terrain, finding its way straight to questions of the heart, to the universal yearning for happiness and purpose. In the end, despite its title, Going Solo is really about living better together—for all of us, single or not.
—The Washington Post
Daniel Akst
“Fascinating and admirably temperate . . . [Going Solo] does a good job of explaining the social forces behind the trend and exploring the psychology of those who participate in it.”
David Brooks
"Today, as Eric Klinenberg reminds us in his book, Going Solo, more than 50 percent of adults are single . . . [he] nicely shoes that people who live alone are more likely to visit friends and join social groups. They are more likely to congregate in and create active, dynamic cities."
Slate
“Klinenberg convincingly argues that the convergence of mass urbanization, communications technology, and liberalized attitudes has driven this trend.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“Thought-provoking . . . Mr. Klinenberg argues that singletons comprise a kind of shadow population that’s misunderstood by policymakers and our culture writ large. Going Solo is an attempt to fill in the blanks— to explain the causes and consequences of living alone, and to describe what it looks in everyday life. . . . Klinenberg renders [these] stories vividly but also with nuance.”
Psychology Today
“A book so important that it is likely to become both a popular read and a social science classic. . . . This book really will change the lives of people who live solo, and everyone else . . . thorough, balanced, and persuasive.”
The Washington Post
Going Solo examines a dramatic demographic trend: the startling increase in adults living alone. Along the way, the book navigates some rough and complicated emotional terrain, finding its way straight to questions of the heart, to the universal yearning for happiness and purpose. In the end, despite its title, Going Solo is really about living better together—for all of us, single or not.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

Americans are said to be individualistic, but that does not explain why, today, most Americans are single. Nor do the bromides about successful women who cannot find a man explain this phenomenon, despite magazine headlines. The main reason 28 percent of American households are single is money — having enough of it, that is. According to Eric Klinenberg's Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, most developed nations have high rates of unpartnered adults: Scandinavia and Japan outpace the U.S. with 40–45 percent and 30 percent of households, respectively. Globally, there was a 33 percent increase in solo living between 1996 and 2006. These numbers do not pertain to Third World countries, nor to Americans in poverty. Living alone is a middle- to upper-class luxury.

This is one of many fascinating and convincing arguments Klinenberg offers in this book, which weaves statistics with interviews of single Americans at every stage of life. Although sometimes flatfooted in his descriptions (one woman he interviews has "shoulder-length brown hair" and a "sweet but somewhat sinister smile"), Klinenberg makes rigorously researched sociology accessible and interesting, as he did in his previous book, Heat Wave. We are presented with a snapshot of decades: from twenty-five-year-olds in Brooklyn who play kickball on the "Non-Commital" team; thirty-something women happy on their own but worried about their biological clocks; middle-aged divorced men (going to seed without a wife to clean up after them) and their female counterparts who are content with not having to care for others (statistics do show that women fare better alone than men); and retirees who refuse to move in with the kids, who would place demands on their time.

Klinenberg isn't just presenting figures: he is also making arguments about public policy. Single women tend to be progressive and thus could be a powerful special-interest group for Democrats. But it has proven difficult to organize them as a bloc, perhaps because most prefer not to identify themselves as single. He discusses discrimination and structural hurdles such as health care and the higher price of living alone. He is so thorough, in fact, that I was surprised and disappointed that he never touched on the gay marriage movement, which might be said to go against this single-living trend and, by seeking for homosexuals the same rights as heterosexual married couples, might even be said to work against the political and economic interests of single people.

The subtitle makes clear Klinenberg's initial approach to his topic — that being single would be a drag. He is perennially surprised at how happy and content are so many singletons he interviews, how "rich and varied" their experience. He concludes that single living is not a social problem — in fact, it is a "collective achievement" of the industrialized world. But Americans are underprepared to address the needs of singles, particularly the elderly. (In Sweden, by contrast, he finds examples of successful policies and resources for singles.)

The challenge of being solo, for those who are single and those who study them, is that most prefer not to be on their own, but that does not mean being alone is an unfortunate experience to be remedied. Klinenberg addresses this complicated tidal shift in American demographics with nuance and rigor, to the benefit of America's new silent majority.

Anne Trubek is Chair of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College and the author of A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses.

Reviewer: Anne Trubek

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203220
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/2/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and the editor of the journal Public Culture. His first book, Heat Wave, won several prizes and was declared a "Favorite Book" by the Chicago Tribune. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Singleton Society 1

1 Going Solo 29

2 The Capacity to Live Alone 57

3 Separating 85

4 Protecting the Self 109

5 Together Alone 131

6 Aging Alone 157

7 Redesigning Solo Life 185

Conclusion 211

Appendix: Methods of Research and Analysis 235

Notes 239

Select Bibliography 255

Acknowledgments 265

Index 267

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2012

    very worthwhile

    vital info about what is happening in our culture; how living patterns are changing faster than our assumptions about them and how we need to recognize and adapt to current conditions

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    Good insight

    Neat read with interesting perceptive. I find myself quoting parts in conversations :) ..And it gets you thinking.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2013

    Recommended

    This book struck a nerve for me as I am in the process of "going solo," being divorced after 44 years of marriage. I am not alone! This, research-based, book provides a rich mixture of statistics and very personal interview information from individuals facing life as a single, both by choice and by chance. And there are many more than one may imagine. While not a "how-to" book, per se, "Going Solo" rationalizes single living without glamorizing it. A should-read for both professionals and anyone contemplating, or actually, going solo.

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    Posted July 31, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted April 26, 2012

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    Posted April 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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