Today, I listened to a Freakonomics episode. It was a short episode by their standards, clocking it at a little over 30 minutes, but it presented a significant question; perhaps one of the most interesting issues I've heard raised recently: are we lonely?
Turns out that the answer is simple enough: yes, we are; at least, compared to people in the 1950s, who were lonelier compared to people at the beginning of the industrial revolution. This is expressed by measuring the rise of single-person households. In the 50s, the studies say, seven to eight percent of Americans were living it single-person households. This has risen dramatically in the past years to over 20%. One study quotes Manhattan as having 44% single-person households. In Europe, Scandinavian countries show numbers close to that figure.
What's interesting is that subjective loneliness - if people perceive themselves to be lonely or not - does not correlate with this. In fact, people living alone are more likely to socialize, to participate in group activities and the like, moreso than married couples, for instance.
Another related idea is that the rise of the single-person household explains in part the shortage of living space. It's not that we're growing in numbers, it's that we need more living space, because we choose to live alone.
This is the first time in history when people can actually make that choice and seemingly not suffer any consequences. Our ancestors couldn't have made it on their own: they needed the protection of the group, they needed to hunt together and find shelter together. That's not the case anymore: we can order food on our phones in a matter of minutes, safe living space is somewhat affordable, and friends and family are a button away.
I need to factor all of this into my world view somehow - it seems an important idea which somehow eluded me thus far.