Home Guru

Is There a Link Between the Dining Room’s Decline and Loneliness?

Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

We are part of The Trust Project

By Bill Primavera

Sadly, to a gregarious guy like me, statistics show that Americans are experiencing unprecedented levels of loneliness today. This trend may be attributed to a simple assumption: the absence of a once-common feature in many U.S. homes – the family dining room.

Changes in cooking habits and challenges in urban housing have contributed to the decline of this communal space, leaving many people without a designated area for shared meals. Some observers suggest that this shift has resulted in more people eating alone and spending increased time in isolation, which is considered a significant contributor to America’s growing loneliness and depression concerns.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Center for Building in North America, attributes the decline of the dining room to a shifting preference toward other home features, which now take priority over this once-central space.

“It’s not that Americans don’t want dining rooms. It’s that they want something else, and that takes up its space,” Smith explained.

Households have also been shrinking in size. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of one-person households more than tripled from 1940 to 2020, leading to the decline of dining rooms in these types of residences.

“In a single-family home, the strong desire now is for a great room, and so that’s what developers build,” Smith noted regarding the diminishing presence of walled-off dining spaces.

“When you can only build smaller apartments or condos with just one wall of windows, rooms will naturally disappear,” he added. “Nobody wants a dining room without a window.”

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published earlier this year, an estimated 37.9 million Americans were living alone in 2022, marking an increase of 4.8 million, or 15 percent, from 2012. The report also noted that the number of adults living in single-person households has more than doubled since the 1960s, rising from 13 percent to nearly 30 percent.

The report emphasized an “increased risk of adverse mental health” among those living alone, citing a 64 percent higher likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression compared to individuals living with others.

Experts have described this shift as the “biggest demographic change in the last century,” driven by rising divorce rates and increased economic independence among women.

According to the report, researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which surveys 100,000 Americans annually on various aspects of their living conditions, including living arrangements.

This study revealed that the largest group of adults living alone consists of middle-aged individuals, 45 to 64 years old, followed by those aged 30 to 44 years. Conversely, young adults aged 18 to 29 years represent the smallest proportion of individuals living independently.

About 43.2 percent of those living alone reported incomes roughly four times higher than the federal poverty level for a single-person household, which stands at $14,580 annually.

The findings also indicate a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms among those living alone. Specifically, 6.4 percent of this group reported experiencing such symptoms, compared to 4.1 percent among those living with others. Among those 45 to 64 years old living alone, 9 percent reported depressive feelings, while only 3.9 percent of their counterparts living with others reported similar symptoms.

For many years, the Home Guru preferred living in historic homes, one built in 1734 (here in Westchester) and the other in 1826 (in historic Brooklyn Heights), and in both instances the dining rooms were walled-off from the kitchen and the living room. In my youth, I remember my mother saying that what goes on in the kitchen should not be evident in the dining room.

Today, I live in Trump Park where my home features a great open space incorporating the living room and dining room, with views into both my kitchen and my home office. I prefer the openness tremendously. Why be walled off from anything going on during the day? One of my great pleasures is watching my wife practice her culinary skills in the kitchen while I work in my office.

In my observation throughout many years of experience as a realtor, I would say that home seekers today more highly value larger bedroom spaces and walk-in closets over dining rooms. And something’s got to give.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest-running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. To engage the services of the Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.