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How People Live, All Around the World

In the U.S., one kind of household is most celebrated and sentimentalized – the nuclear family household, comprised of a couple with their children (under 18). But how common do you think that type of household really is, in the U.S. and in other places around the world?

The United Nations just released a report, “Families in a Changing World,” focusing on “Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020.” Their wide-ranging document included statistics on 6 different living arrangements in 6 regions of the world.

The living arrangements were:

  1. Couples with children
  2. Extended families
  3. Couple-only
  4. One person
  5. Lone parent
  6. Non-relative

The 6 regions were:

  1. Europe and Northern America
  2. Sub-Saharan Africa
  3. Eastern and South-Eastern Asia
  4. Latin America and the Caribbean
  5. Central and Southern Asia
  6. Northern Africa and Western Asia

(See below for examples of countries from each region.)

Here’s How People Live, All Around the World

  1. All around the world, households consisting of couples and their children (under 18) account for only 1 in 3 of all households. Both married and cohabiting couples with children under 18 are included in the count. When couples living with adult children are included, too, that percentage increases only from 33% to 38%.
  2. The most striking feature of the findings is the diversity of living arrangements Of the 36 percentages that were reported (6 kinds of living arrangements x 6 regions of the world), only one was greater than 50%: In Northern Africa and Western Asia, 52% of households consisted of couples and their children under 18 (or 59% if households with adult children are included, too).
  3. In one of the six regions – Europe and Northern America – there were more households consisting of just one person (27%) than of couples and their children (19% for children under 18, 25% if adult children are also included).
  4. Although extended-family households are not very common in Europe and Northern America, accounting for just 10% of all households, that region is the exception. Averaged around the world, extended family households are the second most popular, accounting for 27% of all households. Central and Southern Asia, as well as Sub-Saharan Africa, have the greatest proportion of these households – 32% in both regions. (Extended family households “may include grandparents, aunts, uncles or in-laws in addition to parents and children.”)
  5. World-wide, 1-person households (people living alone) are just as common as households comprised only of a couple – each comprise 13% of all households.
  6. The popularity of living alone varies a lot by region. It is most commonplace by far in Europe and North America, where 27% of all households consist of 1 person living alone. Fewer than half that number are solo-living households in the other regions, with a low of 6% in Northern Africa and Western Asia and 7% in Central and Southern Asia.
  7. Households comprised of just a couple and no one else are also more commonplace in Europe and North America than any other region: 24%. In three regions (Northern Africa and Western Asia, Central and Southern Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa), fewer than 10% of all households are couple-only households.
  8. Single-parent households, world-wide, account for 8% of all households. There was not much variability by region: The range was between 6% and 11%.
  9. Another way to look at single parents is to see how often they live only with their children and how often they live with other family members, too (in extended-family households). World-wide, exactly half live in each. But that varies a lot by region. In Europe and Northern America, 68% of single parents live only with their kids; in Central and Southern Asia, that flips, and 67% of single parents live with other relatives as well as their kids.
  10. World-wide, 2% of all households are comprised of people who are not related. By region, the range was from 1% to 4%.

(If you want to look at relevant figures in the report, the 6 household types in 6 regions are shown in Figure 2 on p. 49. The figure that shows “couples with children” households separately for children under 18 and all children, including even adult children, is Figure 2.10 on p. 62. The graph of lone parents living only with their children vs. with extended family is Figure 2.12 on p. 65.)

Examples of Countries from the 6 Regions

Europe and Northern America: UK, US, Canada, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Norway, Sweden, Finland, etc.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, etc.

Eastern and South-Eastern Asia: China, Japan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand, etc.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica, Haiti, Bahamas, etc.

Central and Southern Asia: India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, etc.

Northern Africa and Western Asia: Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.

[In other analyses, the UN Report included two other regions: (1) Australia and New Zealand; and (2) Oceana excluding Australia and New Zealand – e.g., Fiji, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.]

How People Live, All Around the World

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2019). How People Live, All Around the World. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Aug 2019
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