going solo | March 12, 2013

Real Life Is More Like Mad Men Than Father Knows Best: Eric Klinenberg

Even though more Americans are living alone than ever before, sociology speaker Eric Klinenberg says that the country is actually lagging far behind many other places in the world when it comes to the rise of solo living. In a recent interview, the Going Solo author unpacks the common misconceptions surrounding the growing trend of single person households. He explains that many people believe the rise of the singleton (a person who is single and also lives alone) can be attributed to the value placed on individualism and capitalism in America. However, he explains that America was one of the last countries to see a spike in single living. Many places in Europe (Scandinavia, for example) have much larger proportions of single households than North America—and those countries are actually known for their communal policies and social democracy.

Klinenberg also argues that the belief that single people are narcissistic or lonely doesn't jive with reality, either. In fact, singles are often more likely to volunteer and be engaged in the community than their married counterparts. He also disagrees with the idea that an increase in individual living coincides with a decline in society. "I trust the sociology in Mad Men more than in Father Knows Best," he adds. He doesn't think that the idealized familial norm of the 1950s and 60s was all it was cracked up to be, and that we are romanticizing a period that wasn't as perfect in reality as it seems in myth. "I'm just very skeptical of the idea that we should look at these changes as a sign of decline," he says. "It seems to me that these are changes, and they are profound changes, but we still don't quite know what they mean and the book is really an attempt to think that out."

"I'm interested in getting rid of the idealizations on either side," he also points out. The research presented in his book and his keynotes may appear to some as a disheartening trend and, to others, a highly optimistic one. Married life has its problems just as solo living does, and no one way of living is better that the other. He says that it's important to be realistic, and look at all the reasons why this change is occurring. We also need to adapt public policy to coincide with those changes to ensure everyone—alone or in a family—has the ability to live a happy and successful life.