More than one third of European households consist of one person – this is more than ever before in the history.
Number of people unwilling to share their lives with someone else is growing rapidly throughout the world. According to the forecast of Euromonitor International research company, in the next 15 years, the number of households consisting of one person will grow rapidly in all countries. By 2030 there will be 120 million more of these households.
This trend is steady and intensifies from year to year. According to Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone has dramatically increased from 1996 till 2006 – from 153 mln to 201 mln. In other words, it grew by 33%. According to the study results of European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, the annual average growth of one-person households in EU is reaching 2,8%.
There were 200 mln households in EU countries in 2016, one third of them – single-person households
Eurostat’s statistics confirms the worldwide trend – there were 200 mln households in EU countries in 2016, one third of them – single-person households. The closer the country is to the north, the more its citizens prefer to live in splendid isolation. Thus, 47,4% of the households in Denmark consist of one person, in Sweden – 52%, in Cyprus – 20,8%, in Portugal – 20%.
Most frequently, single-person life is preferred by women. The study conducted by European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions shows that the share of such “lone she-wolves” in the EU countries reached an average of 56,6% (from 50,7% in Denmark to 68,7% in Latvia).
The internet is full of news that spread panic about the blurring of the red lines, collapse of morals, and that the institution of marriage is depreciating while the social exclusion is on the rise.
However, far from every sociologist supports these defeatist opinions. For instance, Eric Klinenberg, one of the most famous researchers of singles phenomenon, Sociologist, Ph.D. at New York University, and author of the book “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone” offers to look at this phenomenon totally differently.
According to him, the XX-th century has fundamentally changed the people’s standard of living, increase of life expectancy, emancipation of women, and communication means development – all these factors has played a tremendous role in the change of social reality. Thus, for instance, the single status does not doom to poverty or sexual abstinence – nowadays, it is quite the contrary.
If you were the single person living in the middle of the past century, you would have to constantly justify yourself to your relatives and friends for your “unwillingness to settle down”. Currently, the person living his or her life unhappily married shall explain why he or she is not yet divorced.
Loners live more exciting social, cultural and sexual lives compared with married ones
Mr. Klinenberg proposes to clearly distinguish between terms “lonely” and “single”. After all, not all people who choose the isolated mode of life, feel themselves lonely. On the contrary – hundreds of studies and interviews conducted by the author of “Going Solo” book, loners live more exciting social, cultural and sexual lives compared with married ones. “Living alone, being alone, and feeling yourself single – are three different social states” – Klinenberg believes.
Far back as about 10 years ago the widespread desire of people to be separated from each other were causing general negative reaction of the society. Nowadays, these public sentiments were replaced by calmer ones. Now, the headlines like “Loners are exposed to higher risks of dementia development”, “Loners are liable to suffer from cold and depression”, “Married people are less susceptible to heart attack” are increasingly frequently diluted with more optimistic ones – “Benefits of being single”, “It’s the best time to be single”, and “Why single people live richer and meaningful lives”.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. at Harvard University and Social Psychologist at University of California Santa Barbara, has gone to considerable lengths in the fight against the myths about singles and their discrimination. She conducted the large-scale analysis of scientific researches published since 2000 about in what way the marriage and single-person life affect the level of happiness and personal growth. Ms. DePaulo has announced the unexpected results of her work at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2016. Firstly, she found 20,000 scientific publications about the marriage and only 500 about the lives of singles. Secondly, the scientist and her fellow workers jointly concluded that those, who prefer solo life, live richer social lives and are more actively developing from the psychological perspective compared with the married people.
In particular, one of the studies has shown that people, who got married, almost stop their personal growth over the course of a five-year period, unlike those, who decided not to be bound by ties of matrimony. Moreover, those, who refused from the insanity of the wedding, proved themselves to be more self-sufficient, self-confident and less dependent on the opinions of the others, as compared with married guys. Another study shows that unmarried folks take more care of their families and friends – their family connections are more solid than that of those, who are focused on the marriage partner. “When people marry, they become more insular,” – DePaolo said. More information about the findings of the scientist may be found in her book “Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After”.
Nearly 20 years ago weirdos, who, unlike others, refused to start family were considered to be a pile of misery, but we cannot ignore them any longer. The trend towards solo life snuck into the countries, where traditions are honored. Thus, the number of people who are single is growing steadily in Japan, UAE, and Brazil. For instance, in 1995 there were 20% of unmarried women over 30, but in 2012 this figure has risen to 60%.
Reality is changing
There are other reasons why you can not turn a blind eye to singles anymore. In the Western world, those, who do not wish to share their lives with someone, have become a crucial force that changes political and economic reality.
Thus, Rebecca Traister, author of the book “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” is studying the influence of huge number of single women on the political landscape. Ms. Traister believes that these were single American women, who in 2012 helped Barack Obama to get to the White House – they composed 23% of his electorate. Survey results showed that married women were more likely to vote for Mitt Romney.
“Unmarried women have already shown that they have the power to change America in ways that make many people extremely uncomfortable,” – Rebecca Traister said. According to her, politicians used to ignore the opinion of unmarried women, since most of them were too young and usually did not participate in political life of the country. However, as of today, the social reality has dramatically changed – 53% of adult American women are not linked by a marital relationship (according to the data for 2015, unmarried women give birth to 40% of all newborn Americans). They are seriously concerned about their future – therefore, they keep close tabs on the political changes, participate actively in such changes, and usually prefer Democrats. Ms. Traister believes that this is a new social contract – unmarried woman needs more social guarantees than married ones. She adds that the number of non-family women in 2014 has increased by 3.9 million than it was in 2010.
The same story is true in the United Kingdom, where more and more people prefer to live alone (thus, 26% of the British aged 20-34 choose to be single and live with their parents).
Loners change country’s economy little by little – housing market, for instance. Thus, since the mid-90’s the number or housing complexes for the singles in the USA, namely in New York, is rapidly developing. Thus, Community Solutions non-profit social services organization of the USA, founded in 1994, that dealt with the restoration of buildings and opening of hotels for homeless and single workers by 2010 managed to restore 11 buildings in New York and its outskirts. This organization has converted buildings into the housing complexes with cheap small apartments and with the infrastructure suitable for the singles. Partner projects of Community Solutions were launched in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington, and other large cities American cities. “We work on the market, where the demand is much greater than the supply,” – Rosanne Haggerty, co-founder of Community Solutions, said.
According to Eric Klinenberg, the number of small apartments for young professionals is constantly growing in Tokyo, Sydney, and London. This segment is swelling the ranks of loners in a speedy manner. Sweden is the world leader in the number of accommodations for singles. 60% of all the apartments in Sweden are occupied by one person.
According to Rating, in 2014 there were only 12% of one-person households in Ukraine
Those, who prefer independence and loneliness, change the consumption patterns too. Thus, according to The Economist, in Brazil annual sales of ready-made meals, much favoured by loners, have more than doubled in the last five years – to $1.2 bln.
So far Ukraine is safe from such dramatic social changes. According to State Statistics Service of Ukraine, in 2016 the share of one-person households in Ukraine is 19,7%. Oleksii Antypovych, Director of Sociological Group Rating, said that true figures are quite different from official ones. The expert said that in 2014 there were only 12% of one-person households, and since then this figure may be increased by 1% only.
Progress or social disaster?
Sociologists have no simple answer to this question. However, experts increasingly frequently say that there is absolutely no reason to raise the alarms and to save the humanity from the solo lifestyle outbreak.
“The evidence suggests that people who live alone compensate by becoming more socially active than those who live with others, and that cities with high numbers of singletons enjoy a thriving public culture,” – Mr. Klinenberg writes. According to him, we are indebted to loners for innovations and overall progress.
Moreover, 70-year-old Bella DePaulo, who lives alone all her life and claims that she doesn’t even feel herself unhappy, believes that loners are still discriminated and they need their rights protected. An unmarried person is more likely to be asked to stay at work than a family person, single woman is steel condemned behind the scenes guided by such archaic stereotypes as “Something is wrong with her, because she is unmarried”.
“Singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing and discrimination against people who are not married – and marital privilege – the unearned advantages that benefit those who are married – continue to frequently slip under the cultural radar” – notes DePaulo with indignation.