I accidentally minored in sociology. While reviewing my transcript for the hundredth time with my advisor, she suggested that by taking a few additional classes, I would graduate with a sociology minor. I was wise enough to realize that while this was by no means a marketable degree, I enjoyed the classes enough to do it. Since then, I have always been a geek for statistics and cultural studies.
I read the cover article in New York this week – “The Loneliness Myth” – and was completely fascinated by it. The premise of the article is stated early on: “Manhattan is the capital of people living by themselves. But are New Yorkers lonelier? Far from it, say a new breed of loneliness researchers, who argue that urban alienation is largely a myth.”
The article begins with a hard-hitting statistic – of all 3,141 counties in the United States, New York County is the unrivaled leader in single-individual households, at 50.6 percent. Translated from numbers to words, one in two people in New York City proper is living alone. Following, the next most interesting statistic shows that “in Manhattan, 25.6 percent of households are married, whereas the national average is 49.7.” While discussing this with my mom, she raised an interesting point of dissension – many people leave the City upon marrying to raise a family in the suburbs.
However, the author uses this stat to prove a valid assumption … and provides even more statistical ammunition to back it. Having a cadre of single friends (who serve as the urban version of family) kept her from mistakenly marrying young. She then points out that the variety of new experiences available in an urban environment just may be what makes city marriages better – New York State is tied for the fifth-lowest divorce rate in the nation. While one can also argue that (from what I’ve heard), it’s not easy to get divorced in New York.
The article makes some interesting assumptions, but also reminds me of something that I have long believed. People in urban areas (New York, especially) live differently than the norm – not necessarily better, but differently. Facebook has shown me that nearly every person I attended college with in Georgia owns a house and has a minimum of one child. The majority of similarly aged people I know in New York are unmarried, not home owners and childless.
We can’t afford real estate here – it’s as simple as that. While everyone in Georgia and South Carolina always argues that we earn more, it is by no means proportional. What I pay for my one bedroom apartment an hour outside of the City (with no temperature control), can basically pay someone’s mortgage on a starter house in the south.
Essentially, you could be doomed to rent for the majority of your life, while you wait to purchase in New York. Starter houses, you’re looking at what, $400,000 – at least. Two bedroom apartments in Manhattan – do you have a million dollars? So you’re stuck renting in a place where all you want is to be able to turn the heat off when your indoor temperature rises above 90, or turn it on when the outdoors are below freezing.
People become “stuck” at 22 – nothing changes – life becomes “Groundhog Day.” You go to work, pay rent on an exorbitantly priced apartment and go out at night to meet people. 30 is the new 22. Yet people in other regions of the country can look forward to starting a real life – saving for a house, getting married and starting a family. If you can’t imagine ever being able to realistically own something, why think about moving forward.
And so we get stuck.
New Yorkers are forced to become single-minded and career focused. We’re forced to work harder and longer hours in hopes of moving up and making enough money to get by. A functional relationship takes time and takes work, so people forgo them in favor of making more money … and so the cycle continues.
People live together who have no plans to get married. Traditional relationships and the concept of dating to eventually meet someone to start a family with, falls by the wayside. I couldn’t count if I tried, the number of people I have met who have no intention of ever marrying or starting a family.
So do we have it figured out here, the more modern way of looking at life and relationships … or do we have it anything but?