The number of single individuals has skyrocketed in the past few decades in nearly 40% of the world’s countries. While some complain about the economic discrimination they face, many who have chosen this lifestyle believe they hold a winning ticket in other areas of their lives.
Living as a single person in the UK is more expensive than being part of a couple, according to a study conducted by the Good Housekeeping Institute. Everything costs more if you negotiate things or use services as a single person—from everyday items like milk to a gym subscription or car insurance.
Taxes also significantly deplete the pockets of single individuals. Thus, while the property tax bill amounts to £1,670 for a couple, or £835 per person, it reaches £1,235 for a person living alone. When single people want to travel, they will pay a higher price for the journey due to booking fees, which remain the same regardless of the number of tickets purchased. According to calculations, a London-Malta flight can cost a single person nearly £7 more, and a train journey, £9 extra.
Adding up the small and large additional costs for those who don’t have someone to share expenses with, the study estimates that, for the “luxury” of living alone, a person spends, on average, an extra £2,000 per year. As the number of single individuals is on the rise, this additional burden not only needs to be eliminated, says Caroline Bloor, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, but pricing policies should cater to the needs of this increasingly populated market.
“While there’s less stigma around being single in today’s society, clearly we are still being penalised financially,” says Caroline Bloor, the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Is it fair to financially punish those who have failed to find true and lasting love?” asks Emily Hill in an article for The Guardian.
If there’s one reason why single individuals in the UK should still be grateful, concludes Hill, it’s that they don’t live in the United States. The statement is supported by an analysis published in The Atlantic (“The High Price of Being Single in America”) where Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell show that over a lifetime, a single woman with an annual income of $80,000 could pay an additional $1 million just for the “sin” of being single.
Just paying rent swallows 23% of the $7,500 salary of a single person, but only 9.3% of the earnings of a couple making $14,000 per month, according to a Forbes analysis.
Additionally, the couple spends less on groceries (5.6% of salary, compared to 8.3%), cable TV (1%, compared to 1.8%), or the phone bill (1.2%, compared to 2.8%). And we could add to the list amounts that no one talks about, such as those spent by singles celebrating other people’s happiness, such as engagements, weddings, and baptisms (as Hill bitterly points out)—or, let’s be honest, money invested in physical appearance in an attempt to become more “marketable.”
Despite the financial inconveniences of those living alone possibly being interpreted by others in the context of transience, studies and statistics reveal that the number of single individuals who will remain single for the rest of their lives, whether by choice or by circumstances beyond their control, is higher than in any other historical period for which we have data.
The century of solo living
American society, like many others, is grappling with an unprecedented number of adults living alone. Half of American adults (50.2%) are currently living alone, according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The other half consists of married adults, a decrease from the figures of the 1960s when 72% of adults had said “yes” to a partner.
A study by the Pew Research Center estimates that, by the time today’s young adults in America turn 50, 1 in 4 will never have been married. However, not all unmarried adults are necessarily single—24% of Americans aged 25-34 are living together with a partner. The age at marriage has risen: 27 years for women and 29 for men, up from 20 and 23, the average age of marriage in 1960. Attitudes towards marriage have also undergone profound changes. While 46% of adults believe that society is better off if people make marriage and family a priority, 50% believe that society is doing well even if individuals have priorities other than family. The younger the respondents, the more widespread the rejection of prioritizing family—67% of those aged 18-29 and 53% of those in the 30-49 age group do not believe that marriage contributes to the well-being of society.
More than half (51%) of the population aged 16 and over in England and Wales was unmarried in 2011, compared to 47% in 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics. Also, 35% of residents had never been married, an increase of 5% from the situation in 2001. Approximately 82% of single adults considered their status as providing “an opportunity to try new life experience,” writes The Guardian.
The 2011 census revealed that 27.6% of Canadian households have only one occupant. In comparison, the percentage of single-occupant homes was 7.4% in 1951 and 13.4% in 1971.
In 2016, nearly a third (32.5%) of households in the European Union had only one resident, according to data provided by Eurostat, and this figure is set to round up further if the current trend persists. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of these households increased by 2% each year. Croatia was the only EU state that reported a decline in the number of single-person households.
Cyprus, Lithuania, and Malta have experienced the highest rate of expansion of single-person households, with a growth rate of 6-7% per year. In 2016, over 50% of households in Sweden, Denmark, and Lithuania were occupied by a single individual, while in Germany, Finland, Estonia, France, and Austria, the percentage of these households ranged from 40-45%. The Eurostat report attributed the reduction in household size to various factors, including an ageing population and a decrease in the longevity of relationships.
It’s not just Western societies facing an upward trend in the unmarried population. According to a report by the youth.cn media agency, 36.8% of unmarried Chinese women believe that life can be happy without turning to marriage. However, the singleness of Chinese individuals is more of a circumstance-imposed situation than a free choice, as statistics show that 40% of the unmarried find it difficult to find a partner, 25% admit to having difficulties in building a relationship even with someone they love, and only 7.8% declare that they enjoy being single.
Nearly a quarter of Japanese men aged 50 and one in seven women of the same age were still unmarried, according to a report by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, which found that more than four million middle-aged adults still lived with their parents, being financially dependent on them.
The status of “single” encompasses both those who are not in any relationship and those who have chosen alternative family models—in any case, studies attempting to break them down, though limited, show an increase in both categories. We find ourselves in the midst of significant social and demographic changes, the “greatest social change of the last 60 years that we haven’t already named and identified,” to quote sociologist Eric Klinenberg from New York University.
This is a shift that affects 83% of countries that release demographic data, according to researcher Henri Santos, following an analysis of data from 78 countries worldwide. Surprisingly or not, there are studies, experts, and single people who argue that the solo life represents a major benefit of our century.
When one is better than two
The only concern regarding the significant number of adults living alone is of an economic nature, journalist Ben Walsh says. Fewer marriages mean fewer households, with significant effects on the economy. A new home injects approximately $145,000 into the U.S. economy through the expenses involved in its construction, Walsh says. The fact that fewer homes are being bought or rented, with an increasing number of 18-30-year-olds living with their parents, explains why the housing industry has failed to kickstart the economy after the economic recession, as expected, reports the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Itʼs challenging to find other negative effects of the rise in the number of single individuals, at least when considering studies conducted in recent years. Advocates of this lifestyle argue that “there has never been a better time to be single,” in the words of psychologist Bella DePaulo from the University of Santa Barbara.
Although she grew up in an era when most people got married, and the social pressure to start a family was considerable, DePaulo says she never wanted to get married and hasn’t, even though she’s now in her sixth decade of life. The psychologist is intrigued by the fact that society has focused all its attention on the values of marriage, sidelining the public discourse on the contribution of single individuals to building a better society and failing to recognize that this category of people can lead very fulfilling lives.
Despite being labelled as less connected to others, the truth is that unmarried individuals have more time and interest to socialise with family, friends, and colleagues than married people. They engage more frequently in volunteer activities, providing considerable social support, DePaulo says.
A 2015 study by researchers Natalia Sarkisian and Naomi Gerstel confirmed that single individuals are more connected to diverse social networks, offering and receiving support to a greater extent than their married counterparts.
Being single may equate to adopting healthier habits, suggests a study involving 13,000 adults, which found that individuals who have never been married exercise more frequently than their married or divorced counterparts.
The journal Social Science and Medicine published a 2015 study comparing the body mass index of 4,500 individuals from nine European countries, revealing that single individuals, on average, have a slightly lower body mass index compared to those in a relationship.
A more pronounced sense of freedom and a higher level of creativity have also been associated with solitude, according to another study.
Single individuals, according to DePaulo, place a greater emphasis on work and invest more in their personal development. Exploring human relationships in their entirety becomes increasingly important as young people recognize the risks of investing all their capital in a single relationship and the advantages of investing in diverse attachment relationships that go beyond the romantic, the psychologist says. And if the psychological effects of the single status are not yet fully understood, it’s only the fault of researchers, according to DePaulo. Instead of meticulously investigating the lives of single people, they have used this segment merely as a comparison unit in studying married individuals.
Ultimately, by getting rid of the idea that there is only one model of a fulfilled life, Americans could construct the best version of their lives, says DePaulo in her book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. Even if some people eventually get married, this is happening later in life, which is why the researcher argues that singleness should no longer be treated merely as a “transitional station” in life.
“By giving, you shall receive”—an outdated aphorism in modern society
Although it’s challenging to discern the motivations of individuals who remain single for shorter or longer periods of their lives, statements from those who have chosen temporary or permanent singleness seem to suggest a pronounced incapacity to sustain a relationship with all its ups and downs.
Are life partners really that annoying? wonders journalist and writer Natasha Scripture, who recounts marriage advice received from experienced woman. “Husbands are like a sore throat,” warned one of them, recommending that she remain single.
Lowri Turner writes for The National Post, listing the advantages of singleness in her fifth decade when her relationship succumbed to divorce. She describes the joy of “being able to do whatever you want,” while other women still say, “I’ll have to ask my husband.” Turner declares that she now understands her aunt who never got married and spent her life in a cottage by the sea, in the company of cats. Still undecided about her marital status in the future, Turner signed up for an online dating site, but the offers she received came from men 10-15 years older, so she had to answer a simple question—was she willing to spend the next decade administering hypertension medication to her partner? The answer was very easy to give, especially since she had just learned a lesson whose importance she didn’t doubt at all: you have a lot of time on your hands when you’re not expected to attend to a partner’s needs.
Regained freedom is worth much more to some than the financial losses associated with the single life. A 27-year-old who ended a long-term relationship told BBC reporters that it’s cheaper to be alone if you’re free to spend your money as you see fit.
For Jordan Epstein, a 33-year-old real estate agent, his apartment is a sanctuary where he doesn’t have to attend to the needs of others. Even the mere presence of someone close would disrupt his peace and daily routine—a visit from an out-of-town friend seemed maddening within just a few hours of having to share his living space.
“It’s not 1975, where if you were 27 and you didn’t have four kids, you were washed up,” declares Andy Rosso, a 37-year-old cameraman who has lived in a Canadian city for a decade. Andy is in love with bachelorhood and the comfort he finds in solitude. He can do exactly what he wants, the absolute master of his time. If this attitude seems selfish, he asks, how do you distinguish selfishness from the desire for self-development?
Katie Tobin, a 26-year-old stylist, is as enthusiastic as Andy about the unrestrained freedom she enjoys as the sole occupant of her apartment. “Some nights, my house is a disaster, but I don’t even care and I put on a movie. I don’t have to satisfy anyone.” There are moments when she feels lonely, like on Sundays, associated with family meals from her childhood, but Katie believes that occasional loneliness is a reasonable price to pay for her independence.
When the face of happiness is on the flip side of the coin
Andrea Mrozek, Director of Research and Communications at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Canada, believes that single people are not always as fulfilled as they portray. On the other hand, when singleness is chosen for selfish reasons—“I don’t want to give up anything, I don’t want to change anything, I can’t compromise on certain things”—Mrozek sees clear signs of the single person’s lack of maturity.
The large number of women who choose not to marry is a depressing subject for Natasha Scripture. Although she appreciates the freedom of choice that our era has given us, the writer believes that it could become toxic by encouraging us to choose selfishly. As people age, they become less tolerant of others entering their carefully constructed environment, their daily routines, so loneliness becomes an increasingly comforting scenario. Even if the life of a solitary person could be a series of marathons run for noble causes or culinary indulgences with close friends, after a while, the person begins to feel the desire to care for someone’s specific needs rather than the vague needs of the entire world, Scripture says.
And for such a relationship to work, people need to understand that they must give throughout it, rather than waving at the periphery lists of desires and needs they want fulfilled.
If she ever gets married, Natasha hopes she never comes to the conclusion that it’s better to grow old alone than to be exasperated by someone’s flaws. After all, the dearest people in our lives have their flaws, she says, confessing that she likes to imagine herself in old age on a beach—enjoying the scenery and the food on the plate alongside a loved one and relishing this experience much more than she could get annoyed because her partner left toothpaste marks in the sink.
Ultimately, the greatest loss for someone who has chosen to share everything with themselves might be missing out on these simple yet beautifully wrapped slices of everyday life. In comparison, complaints about the financial losses of those living alone, no matter how justified, seem downright trivial.