Being single has long been considered temporary. You were single until you married. Even people whose relationships once existed outside the accepted norm, such as those who identify as LGBT+, strove to have their relationships recognised in the ultimate way: with the right to be in a couple, to marry and to divorce.
But marriage rates are declining, and the singles population – those who are divorced and those who have never married – is rising globally. In the UK, 28% of all living accommodation comprises single-person households, up from 17% in 1971, while in the US when today’s adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, one in four are predicted to have been single for their whole lives. Similar statistics are replicated across the globe. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where marriage remains common, young women are delaying marriage to get an education first (sources: Office for National Statistics (ONS), Pew Research Center, Quartz).
The implication for brands is clear: this is a market of consumers who approach life differently. They shop for food more frequently, but buy less. ‘Small households have a lot of buying power and shop very differently from family shoppers,’ Joanna Parman, a Nielsen analyst told The Guardian. ‘It’s the older, small households that have the most dispensable income and are spending the most on food and drink.’ Indeed, Nielsen found that 18% of shoppers wanted to buy smaller packs.
Categories like travel, housing and entertainment, also have to be reframed with single people in mind. Euromonitor predicts that ‘by 2030, single-person households will see faster growth than any other household type globally’ and points to young professionals as a driver of this growth, as well as a population growing older alone. In South Korea, the former age group of solo dwellers has been found to spend up to 25% more than multiple-member households in the same age group (sources: Euromonitor, RetailInAsia).
This also represents an attitudinal shift, which will affect how brands target this group. For some, singledom is not a state that they long to be out of, but a lifestyle choice with positive benefits. Bella DePaulo, psychologist and author of The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone explains:
For unknown numbers of people, being alone is not just a preference – it is a craving, a need
‘Deprived of their time alone for too long, they begin to fantasise about it. Nothing feels quite right until their need for solitude is replenished.’ But too often brands ignore this large market, instead still peddling visions of a nuclear family or a couple in marketing, product design and user experience.
With more people living and eating alone, and buying items for one, it is time to consider how this uncoupling of society will affect consumption. From downsizing packaging to removing the stigma of single parenthood, opportunities abound for those that celebrate the positively single lifestyle.