When the census first started measuring the size of American households, back in 1790, the average home had nearly six people in it. By 1960, that number had fallen to just over three. According to early 2010 estimates—although the data also shows many of us doubling up to make rent in the recession—we’re now down to about 2.6.
Behind much of this downsizing in the last few decades has been the rise of the single-person household. The phenomenon, which reaches ominous proportions when projected decades into the future, has been celebrated in trend stories, studied by social scientists, and parsed by family-values advocates who see in so many solitary people the latest sign of society unraveling.