Roommate Revolution? It's About Way More Than Money - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Roommate Revolution? It's About Way More Than Money

Roommate Revolution? It's About Way More Than Money

By Anna Davies

More Americans than ever are living in "doubled-up households." Here’s why it’s not a bad thing — and what you should know as a roomie in your 20s, 30s and beyond.


Because isolation can be intense.

By Anna Davies

Splitting bills is appealing. But quarantine has taught us that living with roommates can bring a lot of nonmaterial benefits, including a powerful guard against loneliness. And living with roommates into your late 20s and beyond is no longer something that raises eyebrows. According to Zillow, the majority of 23-year-olds in 1980 lived independently, without family or roommates. But in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the average age of living solo crept up to 26. And there are growing numbers of thirtysomethings and older — both single and coupled — who find that renting an apartment with roommates makes sense, financially and emotionally.

Alexis Isaacs and her roommate, Kendra, both 31, have been living together for six years. Originally from Chicago, both women decided to share an apartment when they moved to New York at age 25. Now, even though both have successful careers, they have no intention of moving out on their own. “The only way we would stop living together is if one of us got serious with a boyfriend,” Isaacs says. “But we have been talking about moving to a different place together within the next year.” 

Isaacs adds that the recent quarantine has only made them closer. “I’ve been to other people’s apartments where no one really uses the living room, since they don’t feel it’s their space. It’s never been that way for us,” Kendra says, adding that they both love the security that comes from living with someone else.

People assume it’s a financial thing, but for me, it’s more lifestyle. I like living with people.

Sid Gupta, a developer in Southern California

While finding a place of your own used to be a rite of passage, shouldering rent alone has led to people across age groups seeking roommates, notes Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Silvernest, an app that pairs boomers and beyond with roommates. Last summer, Silvernest was involved in a pilot program placing Teach For America members in the Denver area in intergenerational roommate pairings — defined as a difference of 30 years or more. The results were positive, says Burkhardt, and she imagines that the recent pandemic will lead to more such pairings, as well as more people living in “doubled-up households” (which is how the Census Bureau describes roommate relationships). As of 2016, Zillow research found that 30 percent of people nationwide live with roommates, up from 21 percent in 2005. 

“Accepting roommates at any age can give people more financial freedom,” notes Burkhardt. But it also offers an opportunity for socialization and connection that people recognize is a key element in their lives, she adds, and a way to better connect with your community.

Sid Gupta, a developer in his mid-30s who lives in Southern California, made the decision to rent a four-bedroom apartment with several roommates after a bad breakup. “I never liked living alone, and even though I could afford to live by myself, I didn’t see the upside of it,” he says. “I work pretty intense hours, and I like having people to talk to and connect with when I am home.” For Gupta, one advantage of finding roommates is being able to live with a dog without having to take the responsibility of dog ownership. Another has been introductions to his roommates’ social circles. 

“I think everyone is different, and I was up front with the fact I wanted to be friends with the people I lived with,” says Gupta. “I think sometimes people assume it’s a financial thing, but for me, it’s more lifestyle. I like living with people.”

Burkhardt says she hears this more and more from people who use the Silvernest app. “We have such a culture of individualism, but I think people are realizing that they can live with a roommate and not lose themselves.” Still, Burkhardt notes that setting clear intentions and boundaries is key.

Isaacs agrees. “We split bills down the middle and take turns buying household items. We’re also considerate. We’ll have meetings together pretty regularly. If it’s getting messy, we’ll talk through how to handle it so it doesn’t become an issue.” 

Bottom line: Roommate relationships are what you make of them, and doubling up can be a smart way to save money and live a more well-rounded life. But, as Burkhardt cautions, “finding ‘the one’ can be a little like dating.” Know what you’re looking for, whether it’s a friend or simply someone to share the bills. Know your triggers, whether it’s a messy kitchen or a roommate who brings guests home at all hours. But once you find someone you click with, there’s no reason not to keep a good thing going.

Useful links: Renters insurance helps keep you and your belongings protected at home. Be sure to decide whether you and your roommate will share a policy or each have your own policy.

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