Loneliness vs. Solitude.
I’m a bit of a New York Times addict. Among other things, I love that they can have two seemingly contradictory articles in the same year: one outlining the aging loneliness epidemic and the other extolling the virtues of solitude as we age.
The first article, which was just published, is called “As Gen X and Boomers Age, They Confront Living Alone.” It beautifully captures why MEA is creating Regenerative Communities, especially backed up by these kinds of facts:
- In 1960, just 13 percent of American households had a single occupant. But that figure has risen steadily; today, it is approaching 30 percent. For households headed by someone 50 or older, that figure is 36 percent.
- Nearly 26 million Americans 50 or older now live alone, up from 15 million in 2000. Older people have always been more likely than others to live by themselves, and now that age group—baby boomers and Gen Xers—makes up a more significant share of the population than at any time in the nation’s history.
- More than 60 percent of older adults living by themselves are female.
- Compounding the challenge of living solo, a growing share of older adults—about 1 in 6 Americans 55 and older—do not have children, raising questions about how elder care will be managed in the coming decades.
The article goes on to say, “In many ways, the nation’s housing stock has grown out of sync with these shifting demographics. Many solo adults live in homes with at least three bedrooms, census data shows, but find that downsizing is not easy because of a shortage of smaller homes in their towns and neighborhoods.”
We’ve certainly seen this trend in the MEA community, including those who bought a home in Baja Sage, not far from the MEA campus. Given the success of this first Regenerative Community, you can expect to see more in both Baja and Santa Fe, NM. We’re developing some housing concepts that would allow MEA alums to live together in three-and four-bedroom homes to relieve loneliness, reduce living expenses, and create caring environments as we age.
The second article, “You Can Learn to Love Being Alone,” speaks to the idea that “solitude is more enjoyable if you’re in control of it.” A scholar who studies solitude says, “People who pursue solitude of their own volition ‘tend to report that it feels full—like they’re full of ideas or thoughts or things to do.’” In that second article, there’s a line that says it all: “Loneliness is happening to me. Solitude is happening for me. That little shift makes the biggest difference.”
In fact, most research shows that we benefit more from solitude as we age, develop more control over our time, and improve cognitive and emotional skills to help us use it more constructively.
In sum, I think the false dichotomy of “to live alone or not to live alone” misses the fact there are so many alternatives, including co-housing, co-living, and living with family, but also having a very active social life even if you are living alone.