Heat wave deaths in Chicago back in 1995
Examined 3 cases during the heat wave, 3 cases of 3 people that died
who lived alone and died alone during the heat wave.
Why did so many Chicagoans die alone during the heat wave? Why do
so many Chicagoans live alone, particularly older folks, with limited
social contacts and weak support during normal times? What accounts
for the social production of isolation? How can we understand the lives
and deaths of the literally isolated?
When someone dies alone and at home, the death is a powerful symbol
of social abandonment and failure.
The number of older people living alone is rising almost everywhere in
the world, making it one of the major demographic trends of the
The proportions of American households inhabited by only one person
and of an elderly people living alone have soared since 1950.
There are 4 key social conditions that contribute to the production of literal
and extreme social isolation:
1)the aging of urban population
2)the fear of crime stemming from violence and perceived violence of
everyday life, in extreme forms this can result in a total retreat from
3)the degradation of public spaces in poor urban areas and specific
residential facilities (such as senior public housing units)
4)the transformation in the nature of state social services and support
systems such as health care, public or subsidized housing , and home
There are 3 specific pre-disposing factors for urban isolation:
1)the rise in the number of seniors living alone, often after “outliving”
their social contacts (friends) and seeing their children leave them to
start their own family
2)the rapid increase in the population of “very old” seniors who are 85+
and more likely to be both alone, sick, and fragile and afraid to enter
into the public world because of their fear of vulnerability
3)the increase in the population of black and Latino seniors, who are
more likely than their white counterparts to live in poverty and be at
risk of illness and inadequate access to health care.
1/3 of Chicago elderly population lived alone.