Is one the loneliest number?

According to Harry Nilsson, one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. How would he explain the increasing numbers of people who choose to live alone? Perhaps it is because, as he goes on to sing, two can be as bad as one. What started as a European and then western phenomena has now become a global demographic trend.

Percentage of households with one occupant

Sweden 47%

Germany 39%

UK 34%

USA 27%

Argentina 16%

China 7%

And it is a trend that is having a massive impact on the way we all live. It is forcing up house prices, creating an insatiable demand for new homes and forcing innovative solutions to one of the most basic of human needs – shelter. Across the developed world and increasingly the developing world too, people are choosing to live by themselves in record numbers.

This phenomenon is most pronounced in Scandinavia – in Sweden an astonishing 47% of households have just one occupant. It won’t be long before Sweden becomes the first country where the majority of households are occupied by one person. Norway is close behind, with 40% of households as single occupier homes.

Many other European countries have high levels of solo dwelling – 39% in Germany, 36% in the Netherlands and 34% in the UK and France. At the other end of the scale, only 3% of homes in India and Pakistan, 7% in China and 10% in Brazil have just one occupant. But even here the numbers of solo dwellers are rising exponentially as urbanisation and increasing affluence fuels a remarkable change in they way people live.

What has caused this profound shift in the living habits of an essentially social animal? Theories and statistics abound and only one thing is certain – no single cause explains the trend. The exponential rise in solo living is the compounded product of a varied range of factors, including:

  • some people, and especially women, living longer (and thus outliving their partners);
  • high divorce and separation rates;
  • people being able to afford to live alone out of choice;
  • urbanisation; and
  • developments in technology that ensure that people living on their own do not necessarily feel lonely.

Original source: Guardian Weekend magazine, ‘I want to be alone: the rise and rise of solo living’ by Eric Klinenberg