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Living Alone: A Christian Response to Rising Isolation


The New York Times (NYT) recently ran an article on how more older Americans are living by themselves than ever before. In fact, people 50 and older who live alone constitute one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups.

To put this in perspective, in 1960 only 13% of all American households had a single occupant. Today it is fast approaching 30%. Among households headed by someone 50 or older, it climbs to 36%.

Among the factors driving this trend are changes in attitudes surrounding gender and marriage. As the NYT reports, “people 50-plus today are more likely than earlier generations to be divorced, separated or never married.”

Regardless of how people themselves may feel about their housing situation, the research has been deemed unequivocal: people aging alone experience worse physical and mental health outcomes and shorter life spans. According to the research of Markus Schafer, a sociologist at Baylor University, “Even with an active social and family life, [people in their 50s and 60s who live alone] are generally more lonely than those who live with others.”

In his groundbreaking book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam noted the loss of social capital in the world. As the title suggests, once we bowled in leagues, now we bowl alone. Long before the time when the internet became the wallpaper of our life (Putnam’s book was released in 2000), there were already the signs of a culture becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and other social structures. Putnam notes that as the 19th century turned into the 20th, social capital was also at a low point. Urbanization, industrialization, and widespread immigration uprooted Americans from friends, social institutions and families. New organizations were created to fill the need. His book argued for needing to do the same as the 20th century turns into the 21st.

The Church is uniquely poised, as it has always been, to provide just that.

But the isolation and individualism present in our world is not simply solved through an embodied community. A recent Lifeway study found that less than half of all Christians active in church spend time with other believers to help them grow in their faith. The younger the age, the more individualistic they are. Two-thirds say they don’t need anyone in their life to help them walk with God.

This suggests that the need is not for less online community and more in-person community. Rather, the need is to use every available means at our disposal to foster community, and then to cast the biblical vision for going higher up and deeper in.

Or more to the point,

… closer in.

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.