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In another classic study from the University of Chicago, Th e Ghetto, sociologist Louis Wirth explained that in the early twentieth century a number of Jewish hotels popped up in Chicago to house Jews who wanted to escape the confines of their local community.
During the same era in New York City, writes one historian, the first full-blown generation of American moderns moved to Greenwich Village so they could enjoy life without a father to use Gertrude Steins phrase and forge a community of dissidents who prided themselves on living a life apart. Villagers took up a great variety of personal, political, and aesthetic causes.
But, as Ross Wetzsteon argues in his neighborhood history Republic of Dreams, they ere motivated by one common aspiration: the liberated self.
But even the more ordinary Villagers enjoyed the freedoms available in what the historian Christine Stansell calls the cradle of liberated personae, a place where closeted identities can come out of their hiding places and all variety of individuals could foster more fully realized selves.
Womens ability to find work in the paid labor market was a key part of this selfactualization, because it gave them a degree of financial autonomy, as well as a way to break out of the domestic sphere. The community, Stansell continues, nurtured a population of single women supporting themselves outside traditional family situations.
Ladies went to work by themselves every day. They rode streetcars alone, and their discussions focused on how women might live outside traditional domestic roles.
Whether in New York, Chicago, London, or Paris, experiments like these spawned a new story line in the days novels. The pleasures and dangers of being alone in the city excited the imagination of female contemporaries, writes Judith Walkowitz. Heroines, adds Stansell, lit by the high ambitions of their generation, set out to prove themselves in the world, rejecting romantic love, determined to find new stories for themselves beyond marriage. The neighborhoods spatial arrangementsits narrow, windy streets; its intimate cafs, salons, and saloons; its great central gathering place, Washington Square Parkprovided both privacy for personal experimentation and a zone for self-expression and public display.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the area had a great number of tenement buildings that warehoused large families. But over the next few decades builders developed an ample supply of small, relatively inexpensive residential units in rooming houses and apartment buildings, which enabled the modern men and women of the place where everything happens fi rst to live alone.
In , the year that Marcel Duchamp and friends ascended the Washington Square Arch and declared the area a free and independent republic, the writer Anna Alice Chapin identified a building nearby as the first all-bachelor apartment house erected in town.
It is appropriately called the Benedick [from Shakespeares Much Ado About Nothing], after a certain young man who scoffed at matrimony. By the s developers were converting single-family houses and tenements into one- or tworoom apartments, and women as well as men rushed to fill them.
Between and , the population of children under age fourteen in the Village dropped by around 50 percent. By , about half of the adult men in the Village were unmarried, as were 40 percent of all women. These changes were consistent with the general population trends for New York City, but they happened faster in the Village, and in more exaggerated fashion.
In a decade, the community of families had turned into an urban enclave for adults, particularly for singles.
A growing vanguard lived alone, and the rest of the city would soon follow its lead. The historian George Chauncey has documented how gay friends in New York City helped each other identify places where landlords and neighbors were tolerant, recruiting other gay men for adjoining units, lest someone more judgmental and intrusive move in.
Rooming houses were especially attractive, not only because they maintained a culture of privacy, but also because they allowed residents to pay by the day or week, which made them easy to abandon if something went wrong.
Chauncey reports that certain hotel residences in Manhattan attracted large numbers of gay men, as did the apartment houses where, as one analyst put it, your neighbor is just a number on the door.
Entire neighborhoodsin Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hells Kitchen, the East Fifties and Sixtiesbecame gay enclaves, organized around bars, cafeterias, cheap restaurants, literary societies, and community centers that helped men support each other in the quest to define themselves.
By the s, these areas had established reputations as places where people of all sexual persuasions could come together to enjoy their autonomy, without worrying too much about whether anyone else was watching. It is well known that during the Harlem Renaissance middle-class whites traveled uptown for a taste of the neighborhoods exotic jazz clubs and intoxicating nightlife; so too did they go downtown to sample the Villages bohemian offerings.
The Village attracted visitors at all hours, but at night its busy streets and buzzing cultural institutions transformed the area into a theater of the new, modern lifestyle, and an adventuresome audience from the city and beyond flocked to the site. This is precisely what happens when a citys public life is robust: Strangers meet in a densely packed, diverse social environment. Th e stage and street merge.
A new public geography develops. And then, as Richard Sennett argues in The Fall of Public Man, the imaginative limits of a persons consciousness [a]re expanded. Just as white middle-class exposure to African American music, dance, art, and literature during the Harlem Renaissance began to nudge blacks from the margins to the mainstream of U.
This is not to say that great numbers of Americans, or even New Yorkers, suddenly abandoned their aspirations to settle down in a traditional relationship. In fact, between the s and the s the dominant practice among young adults involved making a quick and early start to domestic life, and the average age of first marriage dropped by about two years for men from But during those same decades an alternative lifestyle modern, independent, and singlewas sprouting up in cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
New Women, as the most liberated called themselves, were at the forefront of the change. She is engaging because she lives by her wits. She supports herself. She has had to sharpen her personality and mental resources to a glitter in order to survive in a competitive world and the sharpening looks good. Economically, she is a dream. She is not a parasite, a dependent, a scrounger, a sponger or a bum. She is a giver, not a taker, a winner and not a loser.
Brown, who went on to edit Cosmopolitan for more than three decades, had humble origins. She spent her early childhood in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, but moved to Los Angeles at age ten after her father died.
She was raised by her mother; her family was poor, and her sister had polio. Brown, who supported them, developed a firsthand appreciation for the struggles and aspirations of working women in her generation. She attended a small business college, found clerical work in a talent agency, and shifted into advertising when she was hired as a secretary. She gradually moved up the ranks, becoming one of the industrys most accomplished copywriters before branching out into journalism.
Sex and the Single Girl, which came out a year before Betty Friedans The Feminine Mystique, was the kind of feminist tract that scandalized and alienated a great many feminists. For it was written not against what Friedan famously called the problem with no nameinequality of the sexes, generated through discrimination at home, in the courts, in politics, and in the workforcebut for women who felt oppressed by the overwhelming social pressure to settle down early, forgoing years of experimentation, growth, and pleasure to get a marriage license for a domestic life that they might not need or want.
Brown insisted that young women should enjoy their best years without a husband. A single womans biggest problem is coping with the people who are trying to marry her off! Browns book was not a study on how to get married but how to stay singlein superlative style. Sex and the Single Girl opens with Browns account of how, by delaying marriage until age thirty-seven, she wound up with a smart and sexy husband who worked in the movie business, two Mercedes in the driveway, and a big house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
It was not easy to maintain her autonomy, Brown admitted.
During her twenties and early thirties she watched her contemporaries rush into wedlock, often settling for men whose flaws were readily apparent. Although manys the time I was sure I would die alone in my spinsters bed, I could never bring myself to marry just to get married.
Instead, she worked doggedly to advance in her career. She developed a fierce aggression and a unique style that she was willing to get out in the open. None of this, according to Brown, required great beauty, wealth, or a high-voltage personality. It simply demanded guts, conviction, and the fortitude to live alone. Brown did mean alone.
Roommates, she insisted, are for sorority girls. You need an apartment alone even if its over a garage. The benefits of going solo were innumerable. With a home of ones own, a single woman could have time and space to cultivate her self without the social pressure of family or friends. She could work late without worrying anyone, furnish her mind through reading, change her appearance as she saw fit. Most of all, she gained privacy, and with that the freedom to experience a more adventurous, libidinous life.
The single girl has a better sex life than most of her married friends, Brown claimed albeit without providing any evidence. She need never be bored with one man per lifetime. Her choice of partners is endless and they seek her. Brown, after all, proposed living alone not as a means to subverting marriage but rather as a means to improving it. Serving time as a single woman, she counseled, can give you the foundation for a better marriage if you finally go that route.
It could also prepare a modern woman for the possibility that, even if she married, she would one day find herself on her own again, since a man can leave a woman at fifty though it may cost him some dough as surely as you can leave dishes in the sink. The movement had an outlet in Playboy magazine, an iconic leader in Hugh Hefner, its publisher and editor, and a totem in the bunny ears that signaled mens endorsement of a new way of living. I dont want my editors marrying anyone and getting a lot of foolish notions in their heads about togetherness, home, family, and all that jazz, said Hefner.
His magazine did everything possible to discourage readers from getting those notions, too. Playboy condemned conventional domestic life but embraced a new kind of masculine domesticity. Throughout the s and s, writes Bill Osgerby in the Journal of Design History, Playboy spotlighted a series of luxurious Playboy Padsboth actual buildings and fantasy blueprintstailored to the outlook and tastes of the hip man about town.
In The Hearts of Men, Barbara Ehrenreich argues that the magazines ideological project involved reclaiming the indoors as a realm for masculine pleasure. Its not so subtle message to readers: Abandon, all ye who open these pages, your suburban home, your station wagon, your controlling wife. Return to the great city.
Get a place of your own and fill it with modern luxuries: fine liquor, modern art, hip clothing, a stereo, leather furniture, a king-size bed, and the greatest pleasure of allbeautiful, available women. Large-breasted, longlegged young women, anywayand it hated wives. Marilyn Monroe graced the cover of its first issue, which also included an attack on alimony and a story about Miss Gold Digger of Hundreds, eventually thousands of women posed nude for its centerfold spreads and photo features.
Producers of high-end mens products bought ad space so that their brands would be associated with the lifestyle Hefner advocated.
Real women were welcome in a playboys private home, particularly if they were the funloving, nubile, liberated kind that the magazine celebrated. Hefner surrounded himself with bunnies, first in a Chicago apartment and eventually in the famous Los Angeles mansion, and he took on several lovers at a time.
His policy was always straightforward: Women could visit, spend a night or many more. But they shouldnt get too comfortable, seek emotional commitment, or expect him to settle down. His bed may have been open, but in the end it was his alone.
By the s both sexes benefited from the dramatic expansion of the service economy, including home cleaning, child care, elder care, food delivery, even laundry. Drawing on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sociologist Susan Thistle has shown that, since the s, the conversion of womens domestic tasks into work done for pay has. Theres a simple reason for this: Record numbers of women have been moving into the paid labor market.
In , about one in three of all adult women participated in the civilian labor market; by , more than one half did. Employment for those who had completed some college went from 51 percent to 67 percent during the s, and from 61 percent to 74 percent among those who had earned a college degree.
As these women left their invisible jobs as uncompensated domestic workers they generated new demand for other people, mainly women, who could replace them. The personal services industry has grown ever since. Although womens wages lagged behind mens and still do , their rapid entry into the paid labor market made it far easier for them to achieve independence than ever before.
The average age of first marriage, which rose slowly during the s, jumped considerably in the s, from twenty-one to twenty-two for women and from twentythree to twenty-five for men. Adults didnt only delay marriage during the tumultuous decade, they also terminated it at unprecedented rates.
In , about , American couples divorced, a high figure compared to the , divorces in and the , in But was unprecedented, with roughly 1. Demographers calculated that the divorce rate had jumped 50 percent during the s, and they marveled at the startling fact that 25 percent of all marriages that took place in had been terminated by It was also fueled by an emerging moral code that placed ones obligation to care for the self on par with, if not above, ones commitment to family.
Beginning in the s, argues Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in The Divorce Culture, Americans became more acutely conscious of their responsibility to attend to their own individual needsand interests. People began to judge the strength and health of family bonds according to their capacity to promote individual fulfillment and personal growth, rather than on more traditional measures, such as income, security, or class mobility.
The British sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that once women achieved economic independence, couples began to seek pure relationships, which are free floating and not anchored in traditional financial or social constraints. The modern marriage, he writes, becomes more and more a relationship initiated for, and kept going for as long as, it delivers emotional satisfaction to be derived from close contact with another.
By the s, more people began to act as if their quest for personal happinesswhether as a playboy, a liberated woman, or simply a singletrumped all other obligations. During that decade, writes David Sarasohn, the freedom to hop from one relationship to the next was as essential as anything in the Bill of Rights.
During the s and 70s the housing market aided the search for autonomy, with inventory expanding much faster than the population, particularly in central cities, where middle-class families were fleeing. In most big cities, middle-class individuals could easily find affordable rental units, and as they clustered together in places of their own they forged neighborhood cultures organized around single life: Lincoln Park in Chicago.
The Marina District in San Francisco. West Hollywood in Los Angeles. Belltown in Seattle. These werent bohemias or gay enclaves, but places for urban professionals, the young and never married as well as divorcees.
They were full of apartment buildings, both new and newly renovated, to meet the needs of an increasingly individuated marketplace. Solo living was suddenly in vogue.
Consider how many people were doing it. In , about 7 million Americans lived alone, but by the end of the decade more than 4 million others had joined them, making for some 11 million one-person households in the United States. During the s the ranks rose faster and higher than ever before, topping 18 million in In Manhattan, for instance, the proportion of residential units with just one resident went from 35 percent in to 46 percent in , and the proportional rise was even greater in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco.
Th e numbers of people living alone has continued to increase since the s. It rose slowly during the s and s, then soared in the s. Today more than 5 million Americans under thirty-five have places of their own. Not explicitly, since all children share their home with a family or adults of some sort, and schools do not promote living alone as a goal.
But today an unprecedented number of children around the world develop the capacity and desire to live independently through another, historically novel experience: growing up in a room of ones own. Traditionally, most children in the same family shared a room with each other, if not with their parents. Th is was true, of course, for the children of immigrant families who lived in urban tenements, and of African American children whose families packed into apartments after migrating to the northern states.
But, until recently, it was also true of native-born white middleclass families, and even of some affluent ones. According to the U. Census, in the average family household had 2. Since then, American families have become smaller and homes have grown larger. By the average household had 2 children and 1 bedroom per child, and in it had 1. Indeed, the size of a typical American home more than doubled between and , rising from square feet to more than 2, Adults who love living in city centers will leave for the suburbs so they can give their children private space.
Once a luxury, in recent years it has become an entitlement of middleclass life. Whether in cities or suburbs, todays children also spend an unprecedented amount of time home alone, preparing their own snacks or meals and planning their own leisure time, because its increasingly common for both of their parents to spend their weekdays at work. According to Latchkey Kids, a report by the William Gladden Foundation, by somewhere between 10 million and 15 million American children under age sixteen were regularly taking care of themselves after school or during summer vacations.
More children today have less adult supervision than ever before in American history, the report claims, and many begin their self-care at about age eight. In Europe, the dramatic decline in fertility rates over the past fi fty years has transformed the experience of domestic space.
Between and , the average number of people per household fell from 3. The trends are similar in Canada, where between and the average household size dropped from 4 to 2. By the late twentieth century, people throughout the developed world could be together at home with their family, but also alone.
Today, of course, we no longer need private rooms to separate into individual environments. Entire families can sit together, and even share a meal, while each member is immersed in an iPhone or a laptop rather than in conversation with those nearby. But the availability of a domestic private sphere for each person in a middle-class residence changed the norms of family interaction long before the advent of social media. In her comparative study of child-rearing practices among different class groups in the United States, sociologist Annette Lareau noticed that in the typical middleclass family, each child has his or her own room, and except for times when they share meals this happens only once every few days , parents and children are rarely all together in the same room.
Instead, family life is organized around the needs and interests of each individual, parents and children included. The children do not belong to the same sports teams, play the same instruments, or hang out with the same friends, so the family develops a schedule that allows each one to be dropped off and picked up on his or her own. The parents do everything to promote the individual development of each child, and in the process the children learn to think of themselves as special and as entitled.
But they also grow hostile toward and competitive with their siblings. For although the middle- class children rarely engage in face-to-face interaction with each other, Lareau observes, references to hating a family member are common and elicit no special reaction.
In an influential essay, the psychologist and pediatrician Donald Winnicott argued, paradoxically, that the capacity to be alone is based on the experience of being alone in the presence of someone, and that without a sufficiency of this experience the capacity to be alone cannot develop. Specifically, Winnicott was referring to the infant and mother relationship, and to the developmental process through which a young child learns to feel secure on his or her own and self-contained when with others, because the reliable presence of the mother conveys the sense that the environment is benign and allows for healthy attachments.
This process may well still be important, but children who grew up in the decades after Winnicott published his essay have had more opportunities to cultivate an ability to be aloneand not only because so many had private bedrooms. One striking cultural change related to the rise of private bedrooms concerns the way child psychologists advise parents to help their infants sleep.
For most of human history, mothers and infants slept together; today, the great majority of the worlds mothers and children still do. The biological anthropologist James McKenna, who directs the Mother- Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at Notre Dame University, argues that in the process of evolution mothers developed an innate capacity to attend to the needs of their sleeping children, even when they themselves are in deep sleep.
While many cultures have used cradles to support sleeping babies, the crib was not widely marketed to or used by middle-class families until the twentieth century. Initially, babies who slept in cribs were placed near their mothers, close to or right next to the family bed.
But in late a pediatrician named Benjamin Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, in which among other things he advised parents to place newborns in rooms of their own so that they could learn to sleep independently, while also giving Mom and Dad some privacy and peace.
At a societal level, the social pressure on women to have children while politicians raise the specter of the decline of marriage is not the least of the difficulties faced by young singletons. This is what is happening to the singletons when they start their life. Then may come the time of undoing and of rebuilding their life. For those who are not going down that path, it remains for them to re learn how to live on their own.
The persons who experience these difficulties are relatively unexplored in this book. That is why the question whether to what extent precariousness prevents going solo remains an outstanding issue. That is why he stresses that solitude and social isolation remain concrete realities for many people.
Connected to the socioeconomic conditions of the individuals, these disparities are to some extent responsible for the difficulties that encounter the movements for the construction of a collective identity, which would be based on this condition.
This process does not prevent the commercial sphere to create specific products to suit the needs of singletons. As a conscientious sociologist concerned to establish truth, Klinenberg clearly expresses his opposition to this discourse that seems to him so far from reality. Klinenberg had the courage to confront these indispensable realities of life cycle: solitude and death. These realities constitute the common thread of this book.
Klinenberg stresses a very significant aspect of the modern individualism: the thoughts of the individuals on the meaning that they give to their life must be understood in the context of their mode of inhabiting alone or accompanied.
This matter reminds us that in some segments of society, living with a wife or a husband, a mate, or children has ceased to be obvious. If Klinenberg pays attention to the processes of personal development, we could have wished him to be also acutely to the variances in appropriations of this standard of personal growth.
Disregarding the social construction of these aspirations, he takes side to give a voice to singletons and listening to them about their condition, at risk of confusion between what they say and what happens to them in reality. This research is of interest to everyone who cares—as a professional or not—about the current ways of being an individual.