Written By: Rose Kreider, U.S. Census Bureau
In general, the percent of all households that contain just one person has risen over the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. In 1960, 13 percent of all households contained one person, while in 2011, this had risen to 28 percent. While the percentage may not differ significantly from one year to the next, the overall trend has been an upward one. That’s why the decline in one-person households of 0.8 percentage points from 2008 to 2010 stands out.
Since this time period falls roughly during the recent recession, it is tempting to think the recession may have affected the likelihood of adults living alone. However, looking at the percentage of one-person households and years of recession, it doesn’t look like it is necessarily sensitive to recessions, since following each of the three recessions, the year prior did not differ statistically from the year after. (See Figure 1).
One reason we did not see a drop in one-person households following many recessions may be that a substantial proportion of such households contained someone who was 65 or older. People this age are more likely to be retired, and so would be less affected by recession-related job losses. However, the percentage of one-person households headed by someone 65 and older declined from 46 percent in 1971 to 35 percent in 2011.
Some interesting changes in the likelihood of living alone have happened over the last 40 years for men and women age 65 and older. In general, the percentage of men living alone increased, while the percentage of women living alone increased from 1971 to 1991, and then decreased.
The increase for older men was affected by at least two factors: rising life expectancy (from 67 years in 1971 to 75 years in 2007) and a higher percentage who are divorced.
The increase in life expectancy for men is likely also connected to the decrease in living alone for older women. Since these older women’s husbands were living longer, the proportion of the women who were widowed decreased, and the proportion married and living with their spouse increased from 1971 to 2011.
These data come from The Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, which was conducted in February, March and April of 2011 for a nationwide sample of about 100,000 addresses. Statistics from surveys are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. For more information on the source of the data and accuracy of the estimates, including standard errors and confidence intervals, see Appendix G at <http://www.census.gov/apsd/techdoc/cps/cpsmar11.pdf>.