More than 32 million households across America belong to people who live on their own – a larger share of the population than at any other time in American history. And the numbers in the Stamford area sync up with the rest of the nation.
Erin McGee, 32, is just one of roughly 13,000 Stamford residents living by herself, and it’s a lifestyle that has pleasantly surprised her.
“I didn’t think I would like living by myself, you know? Years ago, I didn’t think I would be able to do it,” she said. “I thought I would always be like a roommate-type person until I got married and had kids. But it’s actually really nice.”
McGee first stumbled upon her studio apartment on Stamford’s Summer Street two years ago, when her then-boyfriend was offered a job in California forcing the pair to reassess their living situation at their one-bedroom apartment in downtown Stamford.
“It was kind of a quick-solve, temporary solution. I just wanted to find a place here quick – something I could just afford on my own for the time being, and see where it went,” she said. “We actually broke up not that long after, but I loved Stamford so much I decided to stay.”
She’s been living in the studio for about 18 months, and is planning to search for a one-bedroom in April when her lease is up so she can have a bit more space.
“Being a social person, I always want to have people around me,” said McGee, who has built a wide circle of friends in the city. “But as I get a little bit older, I’m like, ‘Oh, OK. I think I can actually be by myself a bit.’ There’s nothing wrong with a little alone time.”
Her story is a familiar one these days, though it was once a rare tale in American society.
Back in 1950, roughly 4 million Americans lived on their own, accounting for fewer than 10 percent of all households in the nation. But the numbers began increasing in the following years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share was up to 17 percent in 1970 and climbed steadily until the current rate of 27.8 percent – similar to Stamford’s 28.3 percent share – over the next four decades.
The shift is due to a variety of factors, according to Jamie M. Lewis, a co-author of a Census Bureau report issued in August that delves into living arrangements across the nation. One key reason is the national increase in age at which people first marry, she said.
“People tend to marry later than they did in the middle part of the century, so while they’re waiting to marry, a lot of people live alone,” Lewis said last week. An increase in life expectancy also adds to a growing number of people who live alone later in life, she said. Then there’s the decline in rates of “traditional family” households across the nation.
“It’s definitely a zero-sum game, so if you have a decrease in one type of household, you have an increase in another,” she said. “One decreasing type is married couples with children; from 1970 to 2012, they halved from 40 percent to 20 percent of households, and part of that again is the rising age of first marriage, as well as the rising age of when women are having their first child.”
While living by one’s self was once stigmatized as a strange decision, it has become incredibly normalized in recent years. In whole, 27.4 percent of Connecticut households are occupied by just one person, and in many cities the rates are even higher. New London has the highest share in the whole state with 37.5 percent of households consisting of only one person. In Southwestern Connecticut, Norwalk has the highest rate, at 35.9 percent.
Back in 1970, there were roughly 153,000 studio and one-bedroom units across the state of Connecticut, according to the decennial census report. But as the demand for this on-my-own lifestyle has increased, so has the supply of housing units for the market. According to 2012 census figures, the number of studios and one-bedrooms has increased by 43 percent since 1970, to more than 220,000 units.
“The idea of living by yourself is very prevalent here, and I think a lot of it is due to the increasing number of young professionals living here,” said Andrew Davis, a real estate broker with Berkshire Hathaway in Stamford. In that city, Davis said studio apartments can be snapped up so quickly that they are near impossible to find at times.
“It’s gotten really competitive,” he said.
But Bethel resident Kristin Grauer said she still runs into some questions about why she actively chooses to live by herself, or why she bought a two-bedroom condo just for her.
“I feel like sometimes people feel sorry for me because I live by myself, and I just don’t understand that at all,” said Grauer, whose boyfriend also lives by himself.
“I love it, and I couldn’t be happier,” she continued. “I love sitting on my couch in holey sweatpants and eating microwave popcorn out of the bag. Coming and going. I like that when I go to concerts I don’t have to worry about checking with someone and making sure they’re OK with it. It sounds selfish, but I do what I want, when I want.”
A lot of it comes down to independence, she said. And that’s a common thread that weaves through the American tale of living alone.
“I would think there’s been more of an emphasis on individualism and valuing the individual decision and the emphasis of individual over the group in recent years,” said Lewis. “So I think that might be related to the fact that living alone is less stigmatized than it may have once been, and that it’s not viewed as out of place.”
That independence and individualism is also a key attractor for Greenwich resident Krista Way, who has lived on her own for the past couple of years, after relocating to Connecticut from her home state of Florida. She echoed Grauer’s sentiments on the freedoms that come with a one-woman living situation, like the perks of being able to redecorate on a whim, and not having to check in with or take care of anyone else.
“I’ve always been pretty independent, and I think this is an ideal situation for someone who’s independent,” she said.
And loneliness isn’t a concern.
“Between work and friends and family – or the people who I consider to be my family here – I have a lot going on, so I never have enough downtime, or alone time to feel lonely,” she said. “When I have alone time, I appreciate it, because it’s quiet time.”