Living alone in higher percentages in Rust Belt cities

Living alone is not limited to young singles: some Rust Belt cities have higher percentages (compared to the national figures of 27% of single households) of older single households.

Pittsburgh, former capital of the nation’s steel industry, has seen its population drop by more than half to about 306,000 since 1950, according to the 2010 Census. The government said 41.7 percent of households consist of one person, the sixth-highest rate in the nation…Now, about one in eight Pittsburgh households is occupied by a single elderly person, the fifth highest among U.S. cities. Russell said a significant share of the single households consist of elderly women, whom he calls “Rust-Belt babushkas.”…

In the Census data, Atlanta and Washington were tied at 44 percent for the highest percentage of one-person households.

Cincinnati ranked third in the nation with 43.4 percent of its 133,420 households consisting of single people. In 1900, Cincinnati was the nation’s 10th largest city, with a population of about 326,000. In 2010, it was the 62nd largest, with about 297,000.

The city’s relatively high number of singles is probably the result of families leaving for suburbs starting in the 1970s, combined with an influx of young professionals to the central city, where University of Cincinnati and Xavier University students also live, said Jeffrey Timberlake, an associate sociology professor at the former.

This reminds me of Eric Klinenberg’s earlier book Heat Wave that looked at the implications of the elderly living alone in Chicago. There are large social forces at work that can lead to certain communities having larger populations of elderly single people.

My thought: the implication here is that Sunbelt cities (South and West) don’t have as large single populations. What is the primary reason for this: the cities simply aren’t as old and they haven’t seen these cycles of population that the Rust Belt cities have experienced? Is it because Sunbelt cities don’t have some of the same kinds of dense urban neighborhoods and downtowns (and instead have more sprawl)? Are these cities more attractive to families (certain kinds of jobs, values, lower crime rates, more single-family homes in suburban subdivisions, etc.)?

One firm look at a particular subset of singles (they “restricted its analysis to single, widowed, and divorced women age 25-64. Without this cap on the age range, places with higher concentrations of elderly people would show a misleading number of single women.”) argues these are the 10 US cities with the smaller percentages of singles:

People tend couple up more in the smaller towns, though there are big city outliers like Edison, NJ, and Nassau-Suffolk metro area in New York. Many places that view themselves as traditional boast marriage rates above the national average.

A few college cities buck the trend of having more singles. North Carolina cities, Raleigh and Charlotte–each home to a university with more than 20,000 students–are in the bottom 25% by percentage of singles.

Logan, UT, and Provo, UT, both have fewer than 20% singles, the lowest in the country. Texas cities McAllen and Laredo have similarly low numbers of single people.

See their statistics for the 100 biggest US cities here. Since Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are so much further down this list, it suggests that those Rust Belt cities have larger percentages of elderly singles.


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