WASHINGTON – Dorothea Felber still misses her late husband, Everett, but says that in the 14 years since his death she has become more comfortable living alone.
“At first, it was a little difficult,” said Felber, 89, who lives by herself at Leisure World in Silver Spring. “But I had married children in the area, and I had a lot of friends. I just kept doing things . . . I went out and did something everyday.”
She is still independent and healthy, playing bridge, traveling, painting and practicing her photography every chance she gets. And she has no intention of marrying again.
“I like my life the way it is,” Felber said. “I wouldn’t take on those old men for anything.”
For someone who is alone, Felber is in good company: Marylanders living alone accounted for one in four households in 2000, capping a decade in which the number of people living by themselves grew 25.6 percent, from 394,572 in 1990 to 495,470 in 2000, according to Census figures. The growth of solo households in Maryland slightly outpaced the national growth rate of 20.6 percent during the same period.
Researchers and relationship experts attribute the increase to a combination of high divorce rates, later marriage, increased independence among singles and longer life spans.
“The age of marriage continues to rise for both men and women,” said Barbara Risman, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit group of family researchers. “We have a stable, but quite high, divorce rate. Those trends together give you an increasing number of people living alone.”
People like Anila Pahwa, 38, of Germantown. Divorced six years ago, she decided to send her only child to India five years ago so that he could learn about his native culture.
Her son, now 17, wants to stay in India for college — a decision Pahwa supports, even though it means that she will continue to live by herself.
“Even though I see many advantages living alone, at the end of the day, I would still prefer to share my space with somebody that I care about,” she said.
Making the choice to live alone can have its downsides for any age group, said Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist and author of “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties.”
“I do think it can be lonely,” he said.
But he also said that the decision to live alone, which is being made by increasing numbers of young adults, can be a healthy one.
“Emerging adults want to establish their independence before they commit themselves to relationships,” he said. “They feel like they need to stand alone before they can make a commitment.”
Many younger singles are living alone by choice, said Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City, a social networking group for young and middle-aged adults in Washington and other major cities.
“People can be more independent now than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. I think it’s a good thing in that there are more choices,” Karlan said.
But while young and middle-aged adults made up 67.6 percent of all Marylanders living alone in 2000, another expert said one of the “main drivers” for the increase in single households is the increasing longevity of the elderly.
“They’re mostly elderly women because elderly men die at earlier ages than elderly women on average,” said Andrew Cherlin, sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University. Women 65 and older living alone in Maryland outnumbered their male counterparts three to one in 2000, according to the Census.
Cherlin said that the increasing number of older solo Americans concerns him more than other groups because of the vulnerabilities associated with aging.
“What I’m more worried about is who will care for elderly women and elderly men who live alone. The elderly want to remain independent as long as they can, but the question is, will they get help when they need it?” Cherlin asked.
For now, that is not a concern for Felber. Still, she admits that it can get lonely sometimes, especially around the holidays.
“Waking up Christmas and Thanksgiving mornings, it’s lonesome,” she said. “After all these years, you just got to keep going.”
But Felber is mostly content with her situation.
“I’m in good health and no complaints. I’m enjoying myself,” she said. “That’s the secret of old age, keeping active.”
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