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In the U.S., those living alone are now "tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type," according to Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University.
About 22 percent of American adults were single in 1950. Today, more than 50 percent of adults are single, notes Klinenberg in "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone," published in 2012. In 1950, he tells us, 4 million Americans lived alone, or 10 percent of households. Today, more than 32 million live alone, or 28 percent of households.
The dramatic shift has caught the attention of scholars and social commentators. Some, like Klinenberg, see the new way of living as inevitable, arguably healthy for the individuals involved, and something the state should support with more favorable public policies that make single living more convenient and ease the complications, including the difficulties of aging alone.
Others, like demographer Joel Kotkin and a number of his colleagues, see shattering implications for societies that fail to adequately replace one generation with another. The difficulty, they argue, is that modern societies place the burden of each retired generation on those currently working.
When the next generation is smaller than the last, a skewed "dependency ratio" results, squeezing ever fewer active workers to support more retirees, while still investing in roads and schools and saving for their own retirement.
One difficulty, Kotkin and his colleagues argue, is that although modern societies maintain a myth that the working generation is saving for its old age, in fact the burden falls heavily on their children. If today's generation does not produce enough children, a skewed "dependency ratio" emerges.
"Among the 23 most developed countries," write Kotkin and his colleagues, "the population 65 or older was roughly 9 percent in 1960; it is 16 percent today. By 2030, this could reach as high as 25 percent. Many countries, notably Germany and Singapore, by 2050 will have about 57 people over 65 for every 100 workers."
The burden is already immense. "In the United States, persons 65 and over received 7 times more in federal spending in 2000 per person than did children under age 18," noted demographer Philip Longman of the New America Foundation in 2004, "and this was before they enacted the hugely costly prescription drug benefit for seniors." Even factoring in education spending at the local level, total government spending favors seniors by roughly 3-to-1. Deseret News