Forget marriage and kids: Millennials explain the joy and sacrifice of living alone

Not many of Jess Munday’s San Francisco friends live alone. But Munday, a 29-year-old who works in tech marketing, was able to swing it.

It took living with her parents for a few months during the pandemic, during which time she saved some money. Then, she struck in January 2021 when, according to Zillow, rent prices in the city were the lowest they’ve been in the past five years.

She pays about $2,600 for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood and makes $175,000 annually. It’s a deal compared with the median rent of about $2,900 for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

“I even know people who are a lot older than me who are living with roommates in San Francisco,” Munday said. “I’m thankfully in a financial situation where I don’t have to do that.”

The 30-something American dream used to look a little like this: You’re married, you have two or three kids, and you own your starter house (white picket fence optional).

But things have shifted. Millennials are getting married later, if at all. They’re having kids later, if at all. And forget owning a sprawling suburban home.

That’s helping establish a new millennial milestone for some: Ditching roommates, moving out from the family home, and landing on living alone.

Going solo as a younger worker has become increasingly popular in the past few decades, though it’s still relatively uncommon in the US. Census data indicates that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, under 3% of Americans between 18 and 34 lived alone; by 2023, that number had tripled. Business Insider’s analysis of American Community Survey microdata from IPUMS found that 10.5% of millennials lived alone in 2022.

Bella DePaulo, a social scientist who studies single people and who wrote the book “Single at Heart,” said the rise in solo living could be a result of Americans delaying marriage.

“Marriage is no longer the marker of adulthood that it once was. Now younger people are more likely to feel like they’re an adult if they’ve had other accomplishments, and sometimes living alone is one of them,” DePaulo said. “Living alone can mean that you can afford to do so, and that’s something to feel proud of.”

For this article, Business Insider spoke to nine millennials who live alone. While their situations vary, they all said that living alone is very much a sacrifice — but one worth making.

In doing so, they outlined the promises and pitfalls of hitting this new millennial milestone.

Munday acknowledged that if she lost her job, she’d most likely have to move back home or get roommates, but for now, it’s worth the risk.

“I personally like living alone. I can control the space, how I decorate,” Munday said. “I do enjoy having space and being able to clean or leave it messy depending on my mood.”

Jess Munday outside her apartment building.
Jess Munday. Dara Feller for BI
The singles tax
Aria Velasquez, 32, lives alone in her one-bedroom apartment in Chicago, paying about $1,500 in rent and service fees. She was laid off from her journalism job earlier this year.

She said the biggest challenge is taking on the financial burden alone. Her partnered friends, on the other hand, get a break.

“Now that we’re in our early to mid-30s, a lot of people are getting married or partnering up so they’re moving in with their partners even if they’re not married,” Velasquez said. “They will cite living with someone to split the bills with as a benefit of moving in with someone.”

Zillow recently estimated that people living alone in one-bedroom rentals spent over $7,000 more annually on housing costs than people living with others — a difference often described as the singles tax.

Velasquez said that she loves living alone and that it has always been her goal. She values privacy and quiet and loves coming home to nothing but the “hum of the fridge.” At the same time, she acknowledged that the cost of many items, including groceries, had risen, adding that there’s “no discount for single-person shopping.”

“You buy a loaf of bread, but you may not eat the entire loaf in a short period of time because maybe you don’t want a sandwich every day,” Velasquez said.

Though she’s able to rent on her own, buying her own place feels like a distant dream: “I view it the same way people think about winning the lottery.”

More millennials living with Mom and Dad
Erica Charles, 28, a publicist in Washington, DC, said that while she and many of her peers live alone, others had moved back in with family in recent years. She said she’s considered it as well.

“I could save $700 a month,” Charles said, adding that it could go toward saving for her graduate school tuition. “I’m thinking about how I can scale back a lot. I’m thinking about jobs that pay more and how to bring in more money through freelancing.”

Rick Fry, a senior researcher at Pew, said the share of 18- to 34-year-olds living in their families’ homes has been slowly rising since 1971 “and particularly kind of picked up during the Great Recession,” per Pew’s research. As of 2023, he said, it was about 32%.

“If you look at the metro areas that have the highest median rents, those are the metro areas where you see the young adults most likely to be living with Mom and/or Dad,” Fry said. Per BI’s analysis of American Community Survey data via IPUMS, 16% of millennials lived with at least one parent as of 2022. (The data doesn’t specify if that means they’re living with their parents or if their parents are living with them.)

Charles said that before the pandemic, she liked living alone. “I thought it was a rite of passage into young adulthood,” she said.

This year, Charles has been rethinking her living situation. Her lease is ending in June. She says she’s been laid off three times since 2020. Because of finances, she’s put plans to pursue a Ph.D. in media communications on hold, and she’s not planning to have children anytime soon. She’d also like to buy a house in the next three years. Housing prices in Florida, where she’s from, have increased significantly over the past five years.

She’s thought about whether she wants to move in with her family or with a roommate. She’s been cutting back on spending and has been doing more budgeting. She’s even taken on part-time food-delivery and freelancing gigs.

“It’s really a privilege to live alone,” Charles said. “Now it’s become a luxury.”

Subsidized solo living
Some lower-earning millennials are able to get assistance reaching the solo-living milestone — but it’s not always easy.

Man sitting in his home alone with a cat on the background.
Garak Clibborn. Sydney Krantz for BI
Garak Clibborn, 39, a veteran in California, has been homeless before. He’s also cycled through at least eight roommates while renting a room in a house and applying for housing assistance so he could live on his own. After waiting nearly a year, his name was called for a housing voucher, he said — and he was told he had 60 days to find a place before it expired.

Many apartments had yearslong waitlists, and others wouldn’t accept vouchers, which is government rental assistance. After calling over 350 places, he finally found a spot. He’s been living alone there since 2012. His rent just went up, to over $1,900. With his subsidy, he pays about $380 a month; he uses the money from his VA pension to help cover the cost.

Man sitting alone in a yard “in process”.
Garak Clibborn. Sydney Krantz for BI
“Even with a subsidy, it’s extraordinarily difficult” to live alone, Clibborn said. He added that he still has to cover many other expenses on his own.

“If I run out of money, I’m screwed. I don’t have anything to help me,” he said.

Way behind in homeownership
Chaz Zimmer, a 28-year-old who sells cars at a Subaru dealership, has lived alone in his apartment in Waverly, New York, since February 2021. He pays $550 a month in rent. He tried to purchase a home last year, but interest rates made it expensive. He’d eventually like to move to a bigger place, but his rent is so cheap that it’s hard to justify moving, he said.

An analysis of American Community Survey data published last year found that non-college-educated millennials were half as likely to own homes at 30 as non-college-educated baby boomers were at that age. It also found that 38% of college-educated millennials owned homes at 30, less than the 54% of college-educated boomers who owned a home at that age.

Portrait image of Chaz Zimmer.
Chaz Zimmer. Adrianna Newell for BI
Tomasz Piskorski, a professor of real estate at Columbia Business School, said it’s become more difficult to buy a home because of the increases in home prices and interest rates after 2022.

“For the millennial generation, it could take years to catch up in homeownership,” Piskorski said.

Zimmer hasn’t given up hope. “Some of it comes down to opportunity and timing,” Zimmer said. He works on commission, so his salary has ranged from $62,000 to $79,000 in the last couple of years. He said he’s “fortunate to have a pretty good job that makes a decent enough salary.”

Chaz Zimmer at home.
Chaz Zimmer. Adrianna Newell for BI
Rent versus a mortgage
James Paniagua, 30, lives in Oakland, California. Throughout college, he lived at home and stayed there until right before the pandemic. He briefly lived in Los Angeles with a roommate, but the pandemic sent him back home.

“I have essentially been living at home for the majority of my twenties,” he said. Last year, he decided to move up north for work and was lucky enough to find his own place in Oakland. Before making that move, a few financial pieces had to fall into place: He had to fix his credit score, and he needed to find a job that paid him enough to move out.

Today, he makes around $125,000; his 700-square-foot apartment with a parking spot costs him around $2,100 in monthly rent.

“Starting to pay rent was the biggest adjustment, which is obviously a huge payment adjustment, but I took the time to plan out that as much as possible and shift some things around to be able to live alone, but still live the lifestyle that I had had before,” he said.

He’s stopped making weekly mall trips and eats at home more regularly now. He said he likes to stay at home and wants to make his space as cozy as possible.

While he said he’s getting a good deal for what he has, some older adults can’t believe how much he’s paying for rent, “they’re shook.”

“It’s more than some of my relative’s mortgages,” Paniagua said.

The experience of living alone has evolved
For those who are able to buy, snagging a solo property is a pivotal life event, and may provide comfort amid the uncertainty of other traditional milestones.

After attending graduate school in London, Julia Mazur, now 30, moved back home with her parents for two years. She worked a tech job that paid a six-figure salary and offered a generous equity package, she said. At age 25, she saved up enough to buy her own condo in Los Angeles.

During the pandemic, she refinanced her mortgage and got a lower rate; she said her monthly costs totaled about $3,000. Now she’s swapping homes with a couple in Austin who have a similarly priced mortgage.

For her, living alone is empowering. She said she thinks some millennials are finding their person and settling down while others, including her, are finding fulfillment in different aspects of their lives.

“For me, I like the ability to move around and to travel, to get to experience what living on my own is like and the responsibilities that come with it. I feel very fulfilled by that,” she said. “And I also think that with living alone, there does come a need to connect with humans in real life. And so I kind of make myself go and do things to try and connect with people, go to tennis classes, go sit up alone at bars, go to meetups and friend dates.”
DePaulo said the experience of living alone has changed significantly in the past few years. She’s found that people living alone are more likely to be connected to more diverse people — and more people overall — and engage more with civic life and community institutions.

Living alone is worth it for many, despite the challenges.
Kathy Pierre, 31, pays $1,280 a month in base rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina. When she moved to Charlotte, she didn’t know anyone there and didn’t want to take risks with living with a stranger after past experiences with roommates. “I needed to make myself afford it,” she said.

At the same time, she says if she lived with family or a roommate, she’d be able to save money and get closer to buying a home. All the bills, including food, utilities, and rent, are her own when living alone. What’s more, it can be easy not to talk to another human in person while working from home.

“It’s just very lovely to be able to live on my own and have my own space,” Pierre said. “I don’t have to negotiate with other people about what happens here. I think that is really awesome. I say jokingly, but not jokingly, I would move out of Charlotte before I look for a roommate.”

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