MPIDR Working Paper

Understanding the growth of solitary leisure in the U.S., 1965 – 2018

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2023-025, 57 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (May 2023)
Revised August 2023
Open Access


This research examines the extent to which solitary leisure in the U.S. has grown over the past 60 years. The demographic and technological developments of the past decades have profoundly altered the way people live life. An increase in social isolation is one potential such change, though its prevalence remains debated and challenging to directly quantify. To provide this direct quantification, we focus on an area of life where social isolation has the potential to be especially detrimental: leisure time. We assess changes in leisure spent alone via nationally representative U.S. time-use data spanning six decades. Findings indicate that time spent alone during leisure has more than doubled among working-aged adults, from 58 daily minutes in 1965 to 119 in 2018. Further, the probability of spending five hours or more in solo leisure a day has increased nearly six-fold. Multivariate analyses indicate this increase is partly accounted for by population changes, most notably reductions in marriage rates and increases in living alone, but most of the growth of solo leisure remains unexplained. Leisure is an important source of social capital and network formation, and increasingly solitary leisure may undermine well-being in the moment and across the life course.

Keywords: USA
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.