The rise of living alone and loneliness in history
journal contributionposted on 16.03.2017, 11:38 authored by K. D. M. Snell
This article connects two current debates: the rise of single-person households or of ‘solitaries’, and the so-called ‘loneliness epidemic’. It raises questions about how these are associated, via social-science literature on loneliness as a social, contextual and subjective experience, and findings in that literature about the relevance of lone-person households. The article is concerned to explore the history of living alone as a form of family structure, via analysis of European, North American and Japanese pre-industrial and industrial listings of inhabitants, and the post-1851 British censuses to 2011. It also does this cartographically via British mapping of lone-person households in 1851, 1881, 1911 and 2011. It documents dramatic rise across many countries in single-person households during the twentieth century, notably since the 1960s. Many pre-industrial settlements had no single-person households, and the average was around 5 percent of households. The current western proportions of such households (e.g. 31 percent in the UK) are wholly unprecedented historically, even reaching to 60 percent or more of households in some modern European and North American cities. The discussion examines this trend – which has very wide ramifications – and raises issues about its relevance for modern problems of loneliness as a social and welfare concern.