Meet the Independent Singletons
As the number of single-person households soars, we analyse those who are trading settling down for solitude and self-discovery, alongside the growing number of couples who choose to live apart.
The Current Consumer Landscape
SOLOS RISING Single-person households are becoming the norm as living alone evolves from a temporary life stage to a long-term lifestyle choice. Globally, the number of solo households grew to an estimated 330 million in 2016. By 2020, single-person households are expected to make up 18% of households worldwide (IORMA, 2016).
SWEET SOLITUDE In today's always-on world, living alone is seen as offering a rare opportunity to relax and unwind. Singletons are relishing their own space through in-home comforts and staying connected with couch-bound apps such as Houseparty, the video chat platform that's been called the 'internet's living room'.
INVESTING IN THE SELF As singles prioritise self-discovery over settling down, independent travel and solo dining are growing in popularity. From global ramen chain Ichiran, where solo diners eat in isolation, to Solo Traveller, a social network to connect independent explorers across the globe, savvy brands are catering to this growing demographic.
SEPARATE MATTERS Across the generations, people are becoming more reluctant to give up their independent lifestyles when they enter a long-term relationship. Choosing to live separately while maintaining a relationship, also known as living apart together (LAT), is growing in popularity.
- 330mThe number of single-person households globally grew by over 50% since 2001 to 330 million by the end of 2016
- 18%By 2020, the number of single-person households globally will rise to 415 million or 18% of total households
- 35%From 2000 to 2025, the number of single-person households in the US will increase by 35%
- 60%From 2006 to 2031, the number of single-person households in the UK will increase by 60%
- 4.1ppRising by 4.1 percentage points between 2005 and 2015, single-person households are the most common household type in the European Union
- >16mIn the US, most solo dwellers (more than 16 million people) are aged between 35 and 64
- 5xIn the UK, 25- to 44-year-olds were five times more likely to live alone in 2011 (10%) than in 1973 (2%)
- 59%In Sweden, 59% of households are single-person
- 51%Globally, 51% of holidaymakers say they’ll be taking their next holiday solo
- 80%Some 80% of German travellers plan to take a solo holiday in 2017
- 69%Some 69% of UK travellers plan to take a solo holiday in 2017
- 67%Some 67% of Canadian travellers plan to take a solo holiday in 2017
- 56%Some 56% of Asian travellers travel to build their individuality and life experiences
- 68%Globally, 68% of people say they would like more rest
- 25%Globally, a quarter of people would choose to spend an hour alone if they had one to spare
- 1 in 13In Canada, one in 13 people are in a LAT couple
- 1 in 10In the UK, one in 10 adults are in a LAT couple
The Allure of Independence
Single-person households are expected grow faster than any other household type globally through 2030, as younger singles exchange marriage for careers and education, while older adults opt to live apart (Euromonitor, 2017).
Household Shift: Single-person households are on the rise due to increased urbanisation, a dip in marriage rates, higher divorce rates, a rise in age at first marriage, declining fertility and greater longevity. At the end of 2016, the number of single-person households globally was estimated to be 330 million, or 16% of total households (IORMA, 2016).
Rates of solo dwelling are highest in North America and western Europe. The number of single-person households is predicted to rise by 35% in the US from 2000 to 2025, and by more than 60% in England from 2006 to 2031 (OECD, 2011). Across the European Union, a single person living alone is the most common household type, rising by 4.1 percentage points between 2005 and 2015 (Eurostat, 2016).
Young & Free in the City: While older adults are increasingly likely to live alone in old age, due to widowhood or divorce, affluent urban millennials (aged 23 to 36) and Gen X (aged 37 to 52) are leading the solo living trend. Most solo dwellers in the US are aged between 35 and 64 (Euromonitor, 2017). In the UK, the proportion of over-75s living alone has remained static (around 50%) since 1973. However, those aged 22 to 44 were five times more likely to live alone in 2011 (10%) than in 1973 (2%) – making them the fastest-growing segment of the solo-dwelling population (ONS, 2013).
The Luxury of Solitude: Higher incomes and wealth generated by economic development and social security have enabled the move to solo living. "Single-person households increase when people can afford to live on their own," Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, told Stylus. Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, which have comprehensive social welfare programs, have more solo dwellers than anywhere else in the world, with 59% and 41% of households, respectively, having only one resident (Eurostat, 2016).
No More Stigma: In addition to increased financial security, living alone in one's twenties and throughout middle age is no longer considered a transitional stage or stigma, but a rite of passage, Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own, told Stylus. "In the past, it was standard for a young person to leave the family home for college, meet a mate, get married while still in school or immediately after, and set up house together," said Bolick. "Today, as the age of first marriage rises, most young people live with roommates after college and then, once they make enough money, find a place of their own."
Global Rise: In China, long work hours, rising divorce rates, an ageing population and a surplus of single men due to gendercide committed during the one-child policy are all contributing to an uptick in single-person households. Women's increased social and financial independence is also a major factor, Xuan Li, assistant professor at the New York University Shanghai, told Stylus. "The expectation of many [Chinese] men and parents is that women will focus on family and childrearing," said Li. "Having obtained a higher education, many [Chinese] women today don't want to throw that away."
Singles are still depicted as twentysomethings at a bar, or as young women looking for a mate – a far cry from the reality of this thriving, all-ages demographic, and an enormous oversight.
Stereotyped Singles: However, despite their global growth and increased purchasing power, singles are often portrayed as outdated stereotypes. While brands are starting to depict the lives of atypical modern families with more sensitivity, it's still rare to find ad campaigns that depict childfree singles of the same age, Bolick told Stylus.
As being single is seen as less of a transitional stage and more of a valid lifestyle choice, solo dining and travel are growing in popularity.
Independent Explorers: Solo travel is gaining traction, with 51% of global holidaymakers saying they'll be taking their next holiday solo. Germany is leading the way, with 80% of its respondents saying they will go it alone in the next year, followed by 69% of UK respondents and 67% of Canadians (BookYogaRetreats, 2016). The Solo Traveller app, launched February 2016, offers travellers the chance to connect with other singletons on the move.
Self-actualisation, in the context of travel, is characterised by increased appetite for personal fulfilment, autonomy, cultural exposure and spontaneity.
From Taboo to Trend: Some 56% of Asian travellers say they travel to build their individuality and life experiences (Sabre, 2016). While solo travel used to be taboo in India, young people today are increasingly using apps to connect with other solo travellers and go on trips together, Shefali Walia – founder of WeTravelSolo, India's largest solo travel community – told Stylus. "Travelling solo allows people to meet new people, disconnect from their daily lives and revive themselves," Walia said. See New Luxury Travel for more.
Table for One: Globally, dining alone in restaurants is becoming more common as solos refuse to let their single status stop them from eating out. In South Korea, hon-bap (eating alone) and hon-sul (drinking alone) are popular pastimes among young city-dwellers.
Amsterdam's Eenmaal – the world's first restaurant that only has tables for one, noted in our Future Family Dining report – is being emulated by pop-ups like Helsinki-based Take In, designed for singles who had ordered take-out, but didn't want to eat alone at home. Created by Wolt – a food delivery app in Finland, Sweden and Estonia – in partnership with American Express, Take In launched for a month starting in January 2017. It gave solo diners the option to order take-out on the app and enjoy their meal in the company of other lone diners.
Solo dining is becoming less of a taboo. So it should: eating out is a joy that shouldn't have to be confined only to social occasions.
Eating in Peace: Meanwhile, Japanese ramen chain Ichiran, which also caters to solo diners, opened its first US branch in New York City in October 2016. Diners sit in individual booths and order by filling out a form with their flavour preferences and pressing a call button. The order is then collected by a member of staff whose face is hidden by a bamboo screen, meaning solo diners have little interaction with others.
Solo consumers are turning to screen-based social media and entertainment while enjoying their alone time.
Netflix & Chill: In today's always-on culture, feeling stressed and overworked has become the norm. Globally, 68% of people would like more rest, while a quarter would choose to spend an hour alone if they had one to spare (Ikea, 2016). "Many single people savour their solitude. They enjoy the opportunities it offers for creativity, contemplation, relaxation, restoration, spirituality and personal growth," DePaulo told Stylus.
Binge-watching a TV series, ordering take-out or a meal subscription kit, and taking a 'duvet day' over the entire weekend are increasingly perceived as rewards for an exhausting week. See New Nightlife and Here Come the Homebodies for more.
Screen-Based Socials: However, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, "people can live alone and still be connected with other people at all hours of the night and day", said DePaulo. Launched in December 2016 by Boston-based Smack Inc., Fam is a "live chilling" app that lets users create group video chats for up to 16 people within iMessage, without the need to open a separate app. The service acquired more than one million users in its first 12 days online and now has millions more.
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Houseparty is a video chat app that lets users join chats, which are known as 'rooms', with up to seven friends who are currently in the app. Launched in September 2016, the team aims to build 'the internet's living room', according to a Medium article. See our Pop Culture Round-Up: January 2017 for more on the apps facilitating hangouts in digital spaces.
People of various ages are taking the opportunity to enjoy an independent lifestyle, while remaining committed to their partners.
Love & Independence: Increasing numbers of single-person households and a decline in marriage rates doesn't mean younger consumers are shunning romantic relationships for solitude. Living apart together (LAT) is a growing trend, offering the benefits of a single lifestyle together with those of a monogamous relationship. "Many millennials highly value expressions of love and commitment that are driven by personal choice versus convention," said Deborah Marquardt, chief marketing officer of the Diamond Producers Association.
Apart, Together: One in 13 Canadians belongs to a LAT couple, while that figure goes up to one in 10 adults in the UK. "As people put off marrying until later and later ages, or don't marry at all, many are spending more years of their life living on their own. So when they get into a serious relationship, many of them want to keep the relationship and also keep their own place," said DePaulo. See New Attitudes to Love and Sex for more.
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