One of the most significant demographic revolutions has been the dramatic rise in the number of people who live alone. It is a phenomenon that is not limited to Western nations.
In their academic book, Living Alone: Globalization, Identity and Belonging, Lynn Jamieson and Roona Simpson offer the most comprehensive review and analysis of solo living to date. Just about every aspect of solo living that I have been discussing here and elsewhere for so long – and some other topics as well – get attention in the book.
Many writings on solo living focus on the US, but Jamieson and Simpson’s perspective reaches around the globe. In an early chapter on geographies of living alone, the authors provide a table showing the popularity of 1-person households in 42 nations. Data, when available, are presented for 1950, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.
Do you already know (or think you know) where people are most and least likely to live alone? Go ahead and make your predictions, if you want to, and then read on.
The measure the authors report is the percentage of all households that are 1-person households.
For the most recent year (2010), that percentage is highest for Sweden, where nearly half (49%) of all households are 1-person households. The country in which people are least likely to live alone is India, where only 4% of all households are 1-person households.
The four nations that top the list are all Nordic countries:
- Sweden, 49% of all households are 1-person households
- Finland, 41%
- Norway, 40%
- Denmark, 39%
Germany has just as many 1-person households as Denmark, at 39%.
Other countries in which at least 30% of households are 1-person households are Switzerland (37%), the Netherlands and Austria (each 36%), Estonia (35%), Belgium (34%), Japan and Iceland (each 31%), and France (30%).
The UK, Hungary, and Italy all have slightly more 1-person households (each have 29%) than the US, Canada, Australia, and the Czech Republic (all at 27%).
Also among the countries in which at least one in five households is a 1-person household are the Ukraine (24%), New Zealand (23%), and Ireland (21%).
The countries (for which 2010 data were available) at the very bottom of the list are:
- Israel, 18% of all households are 1-person households
- Spain, 18%
- China, 10%
- Mexico, 8%
- India, 4%
There were data available for at least two different years (between 1950 and 2010) for all 42 countries. For 41 of them, the percentage of 1-person households increased over time. The one exception was India: in the year 2000, 4% of all households were 1-person households, and in 2010, that percentage remained the same.
The most dramatic increase over time in 1-person households happened in Japan. In 1950, only 5% of households were 1-person households; by 2010, 31% were.
In 1950, solo living was fairly rare around the world (though data were only available for 19 of the 42 nations). Only in Sweden was more than one in five households a 1-person household (21%). Other than Japan, countries with fewer than 10% of 1-person households in 1950 were Portugal (8%), and the US, Greece, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands (all at 9%).
In a little more than half a century, solo living has gone from being highly unusual to rather ordinary, in many nations around the world. Maybe that’s why, in 2012, Time magazine called living alone the #1 idea that is changing your life.
Stockholm, Sweden image available from Shutterstock.