Friday, August 26, 2005

One is the Costliest Number

In today's New York Times, there was a story about people who live alone, with no immediate family to care for them. The article cited some interesting statistics about the number of single person households in the US:
Single person households as a percentage of all households:
1940-- 7.7%
1970-- 17.6%
1990-- 24.6%
2003-- 26.8%
There could be lots of reasons for this-- higher divorce rate, people marrying later, more societal acceptance of gay people, etc. The numbers include people who have never married, are divorced, or are widowed.
The main thing he article talked about was what these people do when they are sick or need help with something, and don't have family members to take care of them. Reading about this today was kind of a coincidence because I had to accompany one of my friends to a minor surgery, and pick up her prescriptions and make sure she was settled in at home to recover. I've done things like this before for another friend too. Among the women I know in NYC, there are a number of us who are either single or in long-distance relationships. We list each other as emergency contacts, help with things like putting in air conditioners or moving furniture, and have sets of spare keys to each other's apartments. But we would never dream of becoming roommates, because we all like living alone.
There must be thousands, if not millions of women like us in New York, and elsewhere, and it made me think about all the ways that being single is more expensive than being in a couple.
The one that comes most immediately to mind is housing, of course. For most of the time I've lived in New York, my income has been at a level where I could comfortably afford to share a one or two bedroom apartment, and in fact, since moving to NY I first shared a rental two bedroom in Manhattan, and then shared ownership of a 2+ bedroom in Brooklyn, both of them pretty nice and in good neighborhoods. Even now, despite the crazy increases in prices, I could still probably afford half of a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, and definitely half of a one-bedroom. But if I compare my income over the years to the cost of renting a studio apartment, it's always been tight, and owning a studio, or at least a studio in a closer-in part of Brooklyn, has tended to hover a little above my reach. A studio in Manhattan, or a one-bedroom in Brooklyn, has always been pretty much impossible. Why does half of two not equal one when it comes to housing? Also worth considering: perhaps this demographic shift to more people living alone is part of the reason housing prices keep rising-- two people living alone need twice as many homes as two people living together, so it causes more demand.
Travel is another obvious issue--all those package tour deals you see advertised for outrageous prices are always based on double occupancy. I don't tend to travel alone or buy those package deals anyway, but it's just annoying to know that if I did, I'd have to pay a "single supplement" that would make it no longer such a bargain. And of course there is rarely any such thing as a single room in a hotel, and if there is, it's not that much cheaper than a double room. Again, half of two does not equal one.
Then there's things like car rental. If you rent a car and want two unrelated people to be authorized to drive it, you often have to pay an extra fee. Some years ago, my ex- and I discovered that at some companies, this fee would be waived for registered domestic partners, so we ran down to Borough Hall and got hitched! (OK, it didn't quite work like that, but it actually was one of the things that got us started thinking about tying some kind of knot, that in retrospect, shouldn't have been tied...)
And what about the bane of my financial existence, food! Well, of course it is very frustrating to go grocery shopping for one person. There is one supermarket in my neighborhood that I just can't go to because everything in the meat section seems to come in 8-packs for families. I don't even have a full-size fridge, where the hell am I going to put 7 extra pork chops?! And there are a lot of recipes that just aren't practical to try to cut down to single portions, so you have to be ready to eat the same thing a couple of nights in a row most of the time.
Don't get me wrong-- I love living alone. I have plenty of company when I need or want it, but I think I will always want to have my own space, no matter what sort of relationship I'm in. (My current partner and I often joke about buying a huge amount of land somewhere and living in two little cabins next door to each other. Which I'm sure will cost more than twice as much as one large cabin.) One does not have to be the loneliest number, but it is the most expensive.


Anonymous said...

There is definitely a tax for being single.

Caitlin said...

Other than the housing issue, food was the worst for me. But even these days shopping (and cooking) for two is hard. Everything feels geared toward the family of four or something.

Love the image of the two cabins. don't forget a set of walkie talkies ;)

Madame X said...

We plan to use tin cans and a string, actually.