I am single, living alone and originally from Los Angeles. When I moved to the Washington area after accepting a job at the University of Maryland, I had some basic questions about where I wanted to live: Should I settle in a urban neighborhood filled with single people like me or opt for the suburban family scene?
I decided on a single family home in Bowie. But as I was making my decision, I had some questions: As a black, single woman under 40, would I be welcomed in the suburban family community?
The sociologist in me wondered if my singleness would be undesirable in places usually populated by middle-class families. But to my surprise, my immediate neighbors were also single, professional, middle class households like mine.
When we think about black middle class neighborhoods and the type of families we expect to see in these communities, we are drawn to the depiction of the Huxtable family from “The Cosby Show.” While this has been the historical picture of the black middle class, this is no longer the case. Instead single adults living alone are increasing their share of the black middle class - a group that I have coined the Love Jones cohort.
Based on 2010 census data, nearly 20 percent of black middle class households in the 25-44 range were single and living alone, up from 6 percent in1980. Additionally, the black single households make up the second-largest segment of the black middle class, behind married couples with children.
Meanwhile, only 10 percent of white middle class householders with the householder in the 25-44 year-old range were singles living alone, up from 5 percent in 1980.
The sheer presence and growth of this Love Jones cohort is causing some social institutions to take notice. For instance, given our geographic freedom, we have to decide if we want to live in urban or suburban areas. Indeed, data from the book “Going Solo,” released earlier in the month, found that in 2009 singles made up nearly one-third of all first-time home buyers.
Meanwhile, given our household structure of no dependents, we have to decide how and to whom we are going to transfer our wealth. And black churches must determine if they are going to be sensitive to this demographic shift.
This sensitivity could include having a singles ministry that caters to the specific needs of the single individual that has never married and may never marry. Or does the black church feel as if it does not have to adjust to demographic shifts?
The increase in single blacks living alone could, over time, lead to a reduction of segregation as we pursue areas where it’s easier to meet other singles, because many of these areas tend to be well integrated. For instance, Adams Morgan is a neighborhood that has high numbers of singles and is racially integrated: Based on 2000 Census data, the zipcode in which Adams Morgan is located is 42 percent white, 30 percent black, and 20 percent Hispanic.
At the same time, 56 percent of households in that zipcode are single households, a significantly higher percent than in Washington, D.C., as a whole (44 percent) or the nation (26 percent).
Indeed, for some people being single and living alone will be a temporary category. But for others, it will be a permanent classification. Some researchers have wondered: Should people in the Love Jones cohort be considered a family?
According to the U.S. Census, a family is defined as people related to one another. A household refers to individuals sharing the same housing unit. By these definitions, not all households contain families and not all families live in one household.
Can Love Jones individuals change the definition of families? With our changing landscape of nuclear, extended, blended and same-sex families, I wonder if we should push ourselves to think about if a family has to constitute more than one person or if a relation is necessary.
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