«Friendships are becoming more important»

How has coexistence in the population changed in recent years and where are we heading to in the future? We asked the Zurich sociologist François Höpflinger about forms of living in Switzerland.

Text: Barbara Lukesch | Pictures: zVg

Mr Höpflinger, how has the coexistence of people changed over the past few decades?  

François Höpflinger: The wave of individualisation that began at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s has led to a sharp increase in one- and two-person households. At the same time, households with five or more people have become rarer and three-generation households have almost completely disappeared. For about ten years now, people have begun making more social contacts outside the family, especially in the cities. Friendships and neighbourhood relations are becoming increasingly important, both for 80-year-olds and for youngsters.

Astonishing! There are great fears that the Internet could turn young people into lonely, isolated people.

But the opposite is in fact true. The majority of young people actually interact with others more than ever. Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp have strengthened their social relationships. They organise and celebrate more and more parties, and exchange baby clothes when they’re older.

Small households have their price. Does their increase also have anything to do with the economic prosperity in large parts of Switzerland?

Absolutely. Just take the increasing number of young couples who are together but live in separate flats. It costs. But as a result of the increasingly better qualified women having careers, this money is available, and young people apparently do not regret spending part of it on two households. We have also noticed a similar development in the increase in separate holidays: He travels to Greece with friends, she goes to Iceland with a colleague — that’s how modern, self-confident couples work today.

“Neighbourly relations are becoming increasingly important — for 80-year-olds as well as for youngsters.”
François Höpflinger

What value does sexual fidelity have in such open relationships?

It is interesting to note that loyalty continues to be a firm aspiration in relationships. Romantic ideas of eternal love and sexual fidelity are extremely stable, in fact, they are more widespread today than in the 70s and 80s. What’s changed: Love doesn’t necessarily have to be sealed with marriage. And when couples get married, weddings are celebrated like events among friends — with the addition of some relatives, whereas they used to be purely family occasions.

How does a young family live today?

Couples who do not yet have children dream of a family of four and an apartment in the countryside. As soon as the children arrive, the majority of them discover the advantages of the city. It’s referred to as real “urban familialism”, which is strongly connected to the fact that some cities have really become more family-friendly: good connections to public transport, attractive training opportunities, plenty of day-care centres and cooperative housing. The city of Zurich is currently experiencing a baby boom because 37 percent of young families can live in inexpensive cooperative apartments.

Where are we heading? How will people live in 20 years?

There’ll be more living in small households. At the same time, however, combinations are becoming more and more attractive: large real estate projects will offer both small apartments for the elderly and young singles, but also larger family apartments. Various studies indicate that most people want to live in mixed-age communities. That doesn’t necessarily mean that young people and the elderly have a lot to do with each other, but merely that relaxed coexistence of different age groups is very much appreciated.

François Höpflinger, born 1948, Professor emeritus of Sociology at the University of Zurich. His special fields are age and generation research. He lives with his wife in a house in Horgen on Lake Zurich in which his sister-in-law also lives, along with a retired man and a shared apartment of young people.