Families of Choice Are Remaking America

When Dan Scheffey turned 50, he threw himself a party. About 100 people packed into his Manhattan apartment, which occupies the third floor of a brick townhouse in the island’s vibrant East Village. His parents, siblings, and an in-law were there, and friends from all times and walks of his life. He told them how much they meant to him and how happy he was to see them all in one place. “My most important family,” says Dan, who has been single his entire life, “is the family that I’ve selected and brought together.”

Dan has never been married. He doesn’t have kids. Not long ago, his choice of lifestyle would have been highly unusual, even pitied. In 1950, 78 percent of households in the United States had a married couple at its helm; more than half of those included children. “The accepted wisdom was that the post-World War II nuclear family style was the culmination of a long journey—the end point of changes in families that had been occurring for several hundred years,” sociologist John Scanzoni wrote in 2001.1

But that wisdom was wrong: The meaning of family is morphing once again. Fueled by a convergence of historical currents—including birth control and the rising status of women, increased wealth and social security, LGBTQ activism, and the spread of personal communication technologies and social media—more people are choosing to live alone than ever before.

ALONE TOGETHER: Studies suggest that single people spend more time participating in communal activities and civic events than coupled people.Gift Culture

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