Open topic: Home alone
Like many people described by statistics, I live by myself — it’s a thing. But when it comes to Las Vegas, the numbers may surprise you
Living alone: National media report that more and more Americans are living without roommates, spouses, family members or houseguests who refuse to move on. Living alone can be liberating, and not just because home life becomes clothing-optional. No one cares if you leave dishes in the sink, bills get missed, televisions are left on, cats are accumulated.
That’s more or less my story, complete with cats, for the last 30 years. I lived with a young lady for the better part of a decade, had roommates for a couple of years (and in some cases, a couple of weeks), but mostly, I have enjoyed the freedom to be me. To live in squalor or to go on a 3 a.m. cleaning binge, to sleep late or rise early, to allow my alimentary system to work on its own schedule: This, for me, is a freedom I can surrender for a few days or weeks, but it is a much more comfortable life for me.
Sure, there can be downsides to it. There’s no one else to help clean the house or feed the cats when you’re feeling lazy. Worse, an accident can leave you unable to get help. In the Chicago heat wave of 1995, about 750 people died, many of them people without air conditioning who simply did not have anyone to check up on them.
I’ll risk it. And so, it appears, will a growing number of people. Between 1970 and 2012, the number of one-person households in the United States grew by 59 percent. In 2011, there were 56 million married-couple households — but 32 million single-person households. This despite the simultaneous trend of young and not-so-young adults continuing to live with their parents into their 20s and even 30s, an option, outside of the Bates Motel, that doesn’t work when parents are no longer living. According to U.S. Census data, more than a quarter of American households are now one-person, not counting the cats. Many of my friends are in this cohort, once considered weird, now not so much. Some are older folks whose spouses have died, but most are like me, people who simply like living alone.
“The trend of people living alone has been going on for decades and can be attributed to economic and social factors, particularly increasing autonomy for women and more social acceptance of people living outside traditional marriages and family life,” says Jennifer Keene, a sociologist and associate dean of liberal arts at UNLV.
But here’s the count-on-Vegas-to-buck-the-trend twist in this story: We’re less likely to live alone than you might imagine.
About 62 percent of Las Vegans live in family households, according to 2014 Census data. Another 8 percent live with other people who aren’t spouses or family, for a total of about 70 percent of us shacking up, stuck with a crazy roommate or otherwise sharing living space. The national average for people living with others is about 72 percent, and Nevada statewide is 71 percent, but that includes all the fly-over areas where people are much more likely to live with others than in the cold-hearted urban areas that in no way resemble Las Vegas.
Turns out we’re about 6 percent more likely to cohabitate, as the sociologists say, than people in Portland, Oregon, and almost 10 percent more likely to live with someone else than our neighbors in Salt Lake City. This surprises some, because Utah is kind of famous for family and group activities.
The numbers are more striking when one considers “householders,” that is, those people who own or rent property, outside families. About 36 percent of non-family householders in Salt Lake and 35 percent in Portland are living alone, compared to 28 percent in Las Vegas.
But numbers are boring. Why, I wonder, do people live with other people? People being, you know, people, warts and all?
A lot of reasons. Like economics.
“I have cohabitated the majority of my life,” says Las Vegan Brian Weiss, who is not a sociologist, but manages a secondhand store. “There are a number of factors, I guess, but I would say the social and economic reasons are large.”
Weiss, who is 49, has had as many as 10 roommates, who may or may not have had steady jobs. Some of them just don’t fit in with corporate culture, he says. “On their own, they would starve to death.” Living with others, for Weiss, also means a better quality of life. “I have lived in the Huntridge neighborhood or the John S. Park neighborhood for the better part of 30 years,” he says. “I’ve been cohabitating almost the entire time. I couldn’t have done it economically otherwise.”
Chandler Levrich, 59, moved to the Las Vegas area in the early 1980s. His parents, including a father with cancer, moved here shortly afterward, and the family shared a house. His mother, at 86, is still going strong. “It’s weird,” Levrich says. “Being a gay man living with his mother, it’s an incredible stereotype, but she is kind of my best friend and my major supporter.” Recently, Levrich found himself stranded in a job he did not like. His mom — who didn’t want to be featured in Desert Companion but who I can attest is adorable — said to Levrich, “Sweetie, you are too old to be unhappy.” With his mom’s support, he’s been able to leave the unhappy job and search for other opportunities.
Time for some sociology:
“One of the reasons that people in Las Vegas may be more likely to live with other people is that a significant portion of our population is Hispanic/Latino,” UNLV’s Keene says. “Hispanics often live within traditional and extended family relationships — adult children co-residing with their parents, for example. Of course, there are other social and economic factors. The recession hit our city very hard, and it is likely that people moved in together for economic reasons and perhaps haven’t recovered enough yet to move back out.”
Anyway, why not Las Vegas? Keene asks.
“People bring a lot of stereotypes when they think about Las Vegas. One of the dominant narratives is that no one is from here, and that people don’t know their neighbors and aren’t investing in their neighborhoods. My own and others’ research has found that people are actually much more invested in this city and in their neighborhoods than we would be led to believe. … Living with family and having long-term relationships is another indicator that we are a normal community.”
Good to hear — though I’m not ready to post a roommate-wanted ad just yet. Now, excuse me while I ignore the dishes.