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Why Are Dining Rooms Disappearing From American Homes? Here's What We Know

In American homes today, the traditional dining room is increasingly becoming a rarity, reflecting broader shifts in lifestyle and housing preferences. This decline raises concerns about its impact on social interaction and mental well-being amidst rising rates of loneliness in US.

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Americans are experiencing unprecedented levels of loneliness today, as statistics indicate. This trend may be attributed to the absence of a once common feature in many US homes: the dining room. Changes in culinary habits and challenges in urban housing have contributed to the decline of this communal space, leaving residents without a designated area for shared meals. Experts suggest that this shift has resulted in more people eating alone and spending increased time in isolation, which is seen as a significant contributor to America's growing loneliness issue.

Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Building in North America, attributed the decline of the dining room to a shifting preference towards 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 space," Smith explained to The Atlantic.

Real estate developer and floor-plan expert Bobby Fijan highlighted that modern homeowners and renters prioritize larger bedroom spaces and walk-in closets.

"For the most part, apartments are built for Netflix and chill," Fijan explained to The Atlantic.

Homes have also been shrinking in size. According to the US 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 apartments.

"In a single-family home, that's 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 small apartments with 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 proportion of adults living in single-person households has more than doubled since the 1960s, rising from 13 percent to over 29 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.

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

Approximately 43.2 percent of those living alone reported incomes approximately four times higher than the federal poverty level for a single-person household, which stands at $14,580 annually. They were also predominantly from white ethnic backgrounds.

The findings also indicated 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 middle-aged adults (45 to 64 years) living alone, nine percent reported depressive feelings, while only 3.9 percent of their counterparts living with others reported similar symptoms.

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