A generation that thrived on being left alone after school is proving adulting alone isn’t that bad. Apparently, the independence that Gen Xers developed in their childhoods is proving to be paramount in adulting.
Now that the “Latchkey Generation” is fully in midlife, they’re showing the world that living in solitude doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely. In fact, some prefer it. A few Gen Xers recently shared what it’s like to live alone with The New York Times.
One of the Gen Xers, Jay Miles, has never been married and doesn’t have any kids. The 52-year-old’s independent lifestyle has suited his creativity as a videographer in Connecticut. As he put it, his mix of “independence and stubbornness” has allowed him to happily live alone.
Donna Selman feels similarly about being single. The 55-year-old college professor who lives in Illinois is grateful to be on her own. In fact, she is thankful that she is able to enjoy the financial and emotional autonomy that her mother and aunts were unable to experience.
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According to a recent study, Miles and Selman are just two people part of a growing demographic group in the United States: people 50 and older who live alone.
In 1960, only 13 percent of American households had only one occupant. That number has continued to steadily rise over the years, and the Census Bureau places it at around 30 percent today. In fact, if a household is headed by a person age 50 or older, the number increases to 36 percent.
There are several reasons for the shift in household dynamics. Gen Xers grew up during a time when divorce became common. Plus, women were able to work more outside of the home.
As Generation X became adults, some of them chose not to marry and not to have any kids. They opted for a life of solitude, just as Miles did.
Since women were also to work outside of the home, Gen Xers like Selman found that they were content being the breadwinner and living on their own.
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Just as Miles and Selman are happy with their choices, other adults who have chosen to remain on their own have positive views about living alone.
According to Dr. Markus Schafer, a sociologist at Baylor University who studies older populations, “There is this huge, kind of explosive social and demographic change happening.”
Although many Gen Xers appear to be happy on their own, there is some concern about what this will mean for the generation as they continue to age. Even Dr. Schafer’s research shows that while people who live alone still have an active social life, people in this group are typically more lonely than people who live together.
A bigger concern, however, is the challenge of living alone as a person ages. “What will happen to this cohort?” asked Dr. Schafer. “Can they continue to find other supports that compensate for living alone?”
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For a generation that was raised on TV, the answer may come from a surprising source. Perhaps Generation X just needs to look to a popular TV series from the 1980s: The Golden Girls. In the show, four women in their 50s and older end up living together after they all become single.
Though Gen Xers may be reluctant to give up their solitude and move in with their friends, the idea of community and caring for one another could prove to be key for this generation. The Golden Girls showed the world that you don’t necessarily need family to take care of you as you age. All you need are a group of loving friends.
Selman, the 55-year-old professor, figured that out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apparently she decided to use her time in isolation to stave off loneliness and depression by establishing new routines. One way she did so was regularly calling and depending on a group of female friends.
The professor has even traveled down the road and back again to farmer’s markets where she has met new friends. Friendship has proven to be a game-changer for Selman. As the Gen Xer said, she’s happier now than she was before the pandemic.
Several Generation X solo dwellers have admitted to exploring various living options as they age. Many realize that although they’ve been able to live on their own so far, aging may change that in the future. Some people are even looking back to living arrangements they had in college and as young adults.
According to 56-year-old Patrick McComb, “I’ve been talking to friends about end-of-life issues and how we might want to get together.” The graphic designer of Riverview, Michigan went on to say that, “Being alone till the end would not be the worst thing in the world. But I would prefer to be with people.”