People living alone have long made up a major part of Seattle’s households, in Census Bureau sorting. Now the rest of the country has caught up, with solo dwellers bumping married couples with no children under 18.
America is finally catching up with us.
For many years, Seattle stood out for its high rate of people who live alone — upward of 40 percent of the city’s households have a single occupant. But new data shows that this has also now become the most common type of household nationwide.
According to the Census Bureau’s 2014 Current Population Survey, married couples with no kids younger than 18 have been bumped from the top spot after holding it for more than 30 years. We’re officially in the era of the solo dweller. Nearly 35 million Americans live alone — meaning that leaving the bathroom door open, singing to the cat and cooking dinner at midnight are more commonplace than ever.
It’s strange to think that living alone used to be something very few people did. Through 1950, fewer than one in 10 households had just a single occupant. The rate was higher in Seattle, but not much. In 1950, about 15 percent of city households had a lone occupant — about 33,000 people. Today, more than 121,000 Seattleites go it alone.
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It is still more of an urban lifestyle, to be sure, and the highest rate of solo dwellers is in the downtown Seattle neighborhoods of South Lake Union, Belltown, Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International District — north of 70 percent. But numbers have increased on the Eastside, too, and more than half of households have a single occupant in the densest areas of Bellevue, Renton and Kirkland.
The rise of solo living makes sense when you consider how many more single people there are these days. Americans tend to marry later — or not marry at all — and divorces are more common. As people live longer, there are also more seniors on their own. And young women are much more likely to live alone than they were a few generations ago. In Seattle, three of five adults are unmarried — and that’s not even a particularly high rate compared to other big cities.
But here’s a twist: While people living alone have surged into the top spot nationally, here in Seattle, singleton households may have peaked. Since 2010, they’ve increased by just 3.5 percent, which is less than half the overall rate of household growth.
That could be because our existing stock of rental housing still falls short of the demand for small, one-person units, despite the recent rash of micro-apartment development. And with soaring rents in Seattle, living alone has become something of a luxury.
In fact, a report by Census Bureau demographer Rose M. Kreider directly links the rise in one-person households with affluence: “Americans prefer ‘privacy’ in living arrangements, and … increasing economic resources are often used to ‘purchase’ this privacy in the form of living alone.” But for many, the price has gotten too high in Seattle recently.
However, it’s married-couple households with no kids under 18 — toppled from the No. 1 spot nationally — that are growing fastest in the city. There are now around 68,000 such households in Seattle, a 23 percent jump since 2010. One factor behind the rise may be an increase in empty-nesters who’ve chosen to trade in the suburban home for the walkability and culture of the city. Also, Seattle has a high percentage of young married couples who are putting off having children in order to focus on personal life and career.
In most Seattle neighborhoods, people living alone still dominate. In the center of Capitol Hill, there are 13 solo dwellers for every married couple with no kids under 18. But there are quite a few exceptions to the rule: One in five Seattle census tracts have more married couples without kids than single-person households.