Uncoupled Living

14 : 03 : 2019 Family : Culture : Lifestyle

Being in a couple is becoming a less prevalent way to structure society, as more adults embrace the single life.

Introduction

Klarna Culture Calendar by Snask Studio’ Klarna Culture Calendar by Snask Studio’

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.

Hindsight

The changes in perception of singledom have been driven by changing dynamics surrounding marriage, increasing awareness of discrimination against single people and a growing diversity of relationships in the modern era.

Single is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Wieden + Kennedy for Tinder. Photography by Ryan McGinley, New York Single is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Wieden + Kennedy for Tinder. Photography by Ryan McGinley, New York
Single is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Wieden + Kennedy for Tinder. Photography by Ryan McGinley, New York Single is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Wieden + Kennedy for Tinder. Photography by Ryan McGinley, New York
Single is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Wieden + Kennedy for Tinder. Photography by Ryan McGinley, New York Single is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Wieden + Kennedy for Tinder. Photography by Ryan McGinley, New York
Die For Love by Dilara Findikoglu Die For Love by Dilara Findikoglu

Economics of Marriage

The rising singles population is intrinsically linked to the changing role of marriage in contemporary life. Marriage has been in decline globally for 50 years – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that most member countries experienced some marital decline – and in the UK, marriage rates fell 3.4% year on year in 2015, according to the ONS’s latest figures.

Marriage is becoming less important in society as having children out of wedlock and female financial independence have become acceptable norms. This social shift has resulted in more single people than ever. In 2009, for the first time, the proportion of American women who were married fell below 50%. In Japan, nearly a quarter of men and one in seven women aged 50 have yet to marry (sources: The Cut, The Independent).

Femme TV socks by Working Girls, photography by Brooke Shanesy Femme TV socks by Working Girls, photography by Brooke Shanesy

Societal Singlism

Despite more people choosing to be single, prejudices against singletons remain. DePaulo describes the issue as singlism, defining it as the ‘discrimination, stigmatising, marginalising and stereotyping of people who are not married or in a relationship’.

In the UK, a pint of milk costs £0.50 ($0.65, €0.57) compared to £1.15 ($1.48, €1.31) for a four-pint bottle. That is a surcharge of £0.21 ($0.27, €0.24) per pint. Solo dwellers are offered a 25% discount on council tax, which doesn’t match the 50% discount an individual gets for living with a partner. Good Housekeeping found that being single carried a penalty of at least £2,000 ($2,582, €2,282) a year per individual (source: The Guardian).

Meet Me Halfway, SK-11, China

Modern Support Structures

We are single for longer than ever. In the UK, the average age people marry is 30.8 years for women and 32.7 years for men, up from 22.6 and 24.6, respectively, in 1971 (source: Harper’s Bazaar).

With this in mind, family and marriage are no longer the primary focal relationships for consumers. 'People who live alone tend to spend more time socialising with friends and neighbours than people who are married', says Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and author of Going Solo.

We understand now how important social connection is to wellbeing and happiness. A study by the British Medical Journal of more than 6,500 Britons found that people who reported 10 or more friendships at age 45 had significantly higher psychological wellbeing at age 50, whatever their relationship status, than people with fewer friends. Moreover, the route to fulfilment is no longer limited to marriage and parenthood. In the US, half of married people (49%) say family is their most important source of meaning and fulfilment, while only 32% of unmarried Americans say the same (source: Pew Research Center).

People who live alone tend to spend more time socialising with friends and neighbours than people who are married

Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and author of Going Solo

Non-monogamous Narratives

As more people shun marriage, there is a growing awareness that our default presumption of partnering up is outdated. Elizabeth Brake, author of Minimising Marriage, explains that culturally, most people have an amatonormative mindset, which assumes that ‘an exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans and is a universally shared goal’.

But there are many more types of arrangement that offer equal life satisfaction. Relationship narratives outside of the amatonormative are emerging in popular culture. Asexual people, said to make up 1% of the British population (source: BBC), are appearing on television, and aromantics, those who do not experience romantic attraction, are also making themselves more known by launching Tumblr and Facebook groups dedicated to finding acceptance. Each displays the need to empathise with a variety of relationships.

To find out more about the consumers jaded by marriage and amatonormativity, meet our newest tribe, The Uncoupled.

His, His & Hers by Mr, Mr & Ms Cooper-Liu-Tsapenko, Netherlands His, His & Hers by Mr, Mr & Ms Cooper-Liu-Tsapenko, Netherlands
His, His & Hers by Mr, Mr & Ms Cooper-Liu-Tsapenko, Netherlands His, His & Hers by Mr, Mr & Ms Cooper-Liu-Tsapenko, Netherlands
His, His & Hers by Mr, Mr & Ms Cooper-Liu-Tsapenko, Netherlands His, His & Hers by Mr, Mr & Ms Cooper-Liu-Tsapenko, Netherlands

Insight

The movement away from the couple as the ideal relationship is changing consumption patterns, from the way we travel to how brands market products and how we define leisure.

Singular Residence Hotel, branding by Futura, photography by Rodrigo Chapa Singular Residence Hotel, branding by Futura, photography by Rodrigo Chapa
Duo Form Ring by J.Hannah, US Duo Form Ring by J.Hannah, US
Duo Form Ring by J.Hannah, US Duo Form Ring by J.Hannah, US
Ceremony by Jess Hannah, US Ceremony by Jess Hannah, US

Self-purchasing Economy

Brands are catering for a new consumer persona – the self-purchaser. In categories where the target audience tended to be the opposite sex, brands are appealing to single men and women.

Take diamonds. A recent study shows that one-third of diamond jewellery purchases in the US are now made as a gift for oneself, while in China, self-purchases account for 32% of all pieces bought and 28% of value jewellery (source: DeBeers Diamond Insights Report 2018). Trying to attract this new consumer, Jess Hannah of J.Hannah Fine Jewellery launched Ceremony, a collection of rings for marking new traditions such as personal milestones.

Lingerie is another segment changing its tone of voice to appeal to self-purchasing women. Everlane launched a ‘no-frills, no bows, no bullshit’ underwear line with the mission statement: 'Underwear should be made for you. But for decades, it’s been designed with someone else in mind.'

Underwear should be made for you. But for decades, it’s been designed with someone else in mind

Similarly, lingerie blogger Cora Harrington’s book The Intimate Detail acts as a guide for women buying their own lingerie.

But self-purchasing is not solely a female pursuit. Categories traditionally aimed at women such as kitchen appliances are now being marketed to men. In August 2018, GE launched black matte finishes for its appliances to appeal to design-minded individuals. The move is part of a greater evolution in kitchen appliances, which in recent years have moved to a more ‘stark, clean, neutral-masculine palette’, according to Ashley Fetters of homes and cities website Curbed. These small shifts show how categories can tweak their messaging to appeal to single men and women, without alienating traditional customers.

Paper Bird, Sydney Paper Bird, Sydney

Single-serve Leisure

While single people do not spend all their time alone, when they want to enjoy a leisure activity solo, they can meet obstacles such as the singles tax or social stigma, since most leisure activities are designed for groups. But brands are now creating offerings for solo enjoyment.

The food sector has led the way by reducing portions to cater for single people. Tesco increased its single-serve range by almost 40% in 2018, selling single steak fillets and burgers, smaller bottles of wine and hand-sized packets of potatoes. In restaurants, chefs are designing menus that appeal to solo diners, allowing them to taste several dishes, even if they are not sharing. Paper Bird, a Korean restaurant in Sydney designed around sharing plates, recently introduced a counter menu at the bar, where all dishes are under £11 (A$20, $14.25, €12.60) and come with pickles, rice, miso soup and other side dishes, to allow solo diners to enjoy sharing plates.

Delivery companies are also seeking to attract singletons’ spend, changing policies to be more inclusive. In India, Swiggy – one of the nation’s largest food delivery companies – launched SwiggyPOP to cater for India’s urban single population. The app curates 20–30 meals within a fixed radius, which can be ordered at a fixed price with no extra charges.

'Single people [often have] reduced confidence in solo activities, which could reflect the perception that these types of activity are only suitable as a couple or as part of a group', says Jack Duckett, senior consumers lifestyle analyst at Mintel. ‘For leisure brands in particular, this underlines the opportunity to create campaigns that will help reduce the stigma and reframe them as offering valuable me time.’

If It’s Meant to Be film by Virtue, Park MGM, Las Vegas

Alone/Together Travel

Roughly one in four Americans (25%) say they would travel alone, and UK searches on solo travel have increased by 143% in the past three years, opening up a new opportunity for hospitality brands to become more singles-friendly (sources: MMY Global, Hitwise).

In the cruise industry, many are abolishing the singles supplement, River cruise line Uniworld has removed the single surcharge on its most popular cruises to cater for a 25% increase in solo travellers. Similarly, travel agency Jules Verne has launched Singular, a subset of solo group and supplement-free travel itineraries. Meanwhile, Northern Irish agency Friendship Travel is opening a singles hotel, Casa Rosa, in Olhão, Portugal, in June 2019, with 14 bedrooms but two long dining tables to enable social interaction at dinner.

Since travelling solo doesn’t necessarily mean travelling alone, hospitality brands must cater for a desire for social interaction and the need for solitude. This is why some hotel brands are making it easier for solo travellers to start a conversation. The Standard Hotel and newly opened Life House Hotels both have social network apps that allow guests to chat to strangers before and during their visits.

These virtual chat rooms aim to be an icebreaker for real interaction. ‘Our app allows guests to interact with other guests that are also seeking to meet new people,’ Life House co-founder Rami Zeidan, told Forbes. ‘At a time when technology has started to dilute human social experiences, our tech is focused on enhancing human connection.’

Built by All by MINI Living Built by All by MINI Living

Modern Cohabitation

The cost of living, especially in cities, has led to a population of perpetual renters and house sharers, many of whom are single. ONS has found that 'Almost all the growth in households [in England] between 2016 and 2041 will come from one-person and multiple adult households,' but cohabitation is being reshaped by the principles of the sharing economy.

Almost all the growth in households [in England] between 2016 and 2041 will come from one-person and multiple adult households

In San Francisco, Starcity is pitched as an alternative for those who cannot afford to live in the city on their own. It offers bedrooms of up to 220 square feet, with access to shared bathrooms, kitchen and lounge. One divorcee, Carla Shiver, moved into Starcity because she wanted to share the responsibilities of running a household. ‘The more I live here, the freer I feel,’ she says.

Car brand Mini is also investing in urban co-living with its first architectural project, Mini Living Shanghai, opening in April 2019. The company is transforming an industrial complex into co-living space, with apartments, work spaces and leisure activities. And just as car companies have begun to experiment with shared ownership of vehicles, the Mini Living residents will be able to rent cars from the premises as a perk of living there.

For others, cohabitation may come in the form of shared land. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), known as granny annexes, are making a comeback. Designer Yves Béhar, who has collaborated on a series of modular granny annexes with LivingHomes and Plant Prefab, believes ADUs can make cities liveable again. ‘It’s a solution for housing stock, and hopefully brings the costs down,’ he told The New York Times.

Each represents how the household of the future could change, with less focus on bigger homes and more on sharing resources and designing for smaller spaces.

Mirror, US
Manual, UK Manual, UK

Self-Health

The starkest difference between singles and couples is that the former have to be self-reliant. Shani Silver, writing in her Every Single Day column for Refinery29, states: 'In the last decade, no one has: brought me a cup of coffee, made me breakfast, taken out my trash… [or] put an extra blanket on a cold bed… I’ve done all of this by myself.'

Essentially, they learn how to take care of themselves. One area where singles are benefiting from their status is health. One study found that single women in the US had lower BMI, waist sizes, and risk associated with smoking and alcohol than their married counterparts, while another survey of 13,000 people found that single individuals worked out more frequently every week (sources: Observer, The Independent).

For men, particularly, this is a change in mindset. 'At one time many men relied on their wife to feed them healthy food, to make sure they got doctors’ appointments, and to help them maintain social obligations to friends and family,’ says Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families. 'Now single men are taking responsibility for their own wellbeing.'

Now single men are taking responsibility for their own wellbeing

A raft of new services make it easier for men to talk about their health. Manual, a London start-up, recently closed a £5m ($6.4m, €5.7m) funding round for its wellbeing platform that offers knowledge and products to help men ‘proactively solve their wellbeing and look after their health.’ Similarly, the booming at-home fitness market offers an opportunity to target singles. From Peloton’s at-home spin and treadmill classes to Mirror, a mounted two-way screen that users can stream 24/7, on-demand classes, brands can see how health and wellness products can be marketed at single men and women.

Le Colline Incantate - Enchanted Hills by Noa, Italy Le Colline Incantate - Enchanted Hills by Noa, Italy
Le Colline Incantate - Enchanted Hills by Noa, Italy Le Colline Incantate - Enchanted Hills by Noa, Italy
Le Colline Incantate - Enchanted Hills by Noa, Italy Le Colline Incantate - Enchanted Hills by Noa, Italy

Single Parents Empowered

Just as societal views on children out of wedlock have changed, so too coupledom will become disassociated from childbearing as more people choose to be single parents.

For women, new modern services such as KindBody and Prelude offer egg freezing and IVF. Interestingly, both services are aimed at women in their 20s, before they have even potentially met their future partner. Indeed, IVF and egg freezing are rapidly rising with annual growth rates of 10% in the US. In the UK, the number of single women having IVF is up 35% since 2014 (sources: KindBody, BBC).

While single women may be freezing their eggs, single men who want children are also finding routes without a partner, turning to surrogacy agencies. ‘Men who have a paternal instinct – it is no less than women who have a maternal instinct,’ says Zara Griswold, co-founder of Chicago-based surrogacy agency Family Source Consultants, which works with single men. And in the UK, in January 2019, Parliament approved a change in the law that allows single parents to gain legal parenthood from a surrogate, a right previously reserved for couples.

With the potential for increasing numbers of single parents by design rather than circumstance, there is a new opportunity for brands to help. Architecture firm NOA* is working with family hotel brand Cavallino Bianco to create Le Colline Incantate, a hotel designed for single parents and their children. ‘We have to ask what is the family now?’ says Joanna Lehnis, NOA*’s interior designer on the project. ‘Is it the same as it seemed to be 50 years ago? And the answer is no.’

Foresight

In the future singlism will be replaced by a broader acceptance of singledom as a lifestyle choice, resulting in new behaviour in the workplace, the home and even for those in relationships.

Emotional Contingenies is a love act between two characters. Around them an intricate web of friends and family intertwines in and out of their lives. photography by Alessandra Kila Emotional Contingenies is a love act between two characters. Around them an intricate web of friends and family intertwines in and out of their lives. photography by Alessandra Kila

Pro-single Workplace

One aspect of life where singlism is most under-addressed is the workplace, where family-friendly employment policies often tacitly discriminate against single workers.

In the UK, a study of 25,000 workers found that 65% of child-free women aged 28–40 felt they were expected to work longer hours than those with children (source: PwC).

'There is widespread perception that singles became the workhorses in corporate offices' says sociologist Eric Klinenberg. ‘Countless workers [believe] their managers viewed them as always available for late night and weekend assignments, because they didn’t have children or spouses.’

Companies which use competitive benefits to attract staff will need to address how they pitch their employment culture not only to those who seek a work-life balance because they have children, but to those who seek it even though they do not.

David Carter, founder of UK start-up QDooz, offers a potential model forward, using the sharing economy to track how employees use their working hours. All team members have a certain number of points, which they can keep or swap with others – these can be hours or tasks. This system ensures that no one has more than five points in credit or debit, meaning no one will be disadvantaged, take on too much work or get an unfair amount of time off. ‘It’s not about what you’re going to use your time off to do – whether it’s bungee jumping, Christmas shopping, a date or taking your children to the school play – it’s just about being able to work your 40 hours a week when it suits you,’ explains Carter.

UX For One

With single-person households predicted by ONS to rise by 26% by 2041, brands must rethink how they engineer their user experience to be more friendly to solo households.

It will be about creating options that show that a brand considers singledom as valid a lifestyle choice as being in a couple, and caters for that. ‘There is going to be a bigger and bigger market for affordable services to single people,’ says DePaulo. ‘For instance, ensuring that household items do not have to be sold in ways that single people don’t want, like cups, which tend to be sold in sets of four. But what if you only want one?’

Single-person households are predicted to rise by 26% by 2041

Year & Day is a start-up that aims to cater for the many ways we live now. The brand sells direct-to-consumer premium dishware, but with flexibility in mind. Consumers can take a lifestyle quiz, which asks whether they live in a solo household, with a partner or with family – and it defines family as ‘you live with your BFFs or your kids’. They can then choose how many plates or mugs they would like to suit their lifestyle. ‘Our lives have modernised in many ways, but bizarrely, we still buy our dishes based on very traditional notions of marriage and wedding registry,’ founder Kathryn Duryea told Fast Company. Her goal was ‘to create as much flexibility as possible with this system. It means that you can buy a set for yourself as a single person living alone, but grow your collection [should you choose to].’

Year & Day, US Year & Day, US
Year & Day, US Year & Day, US
Year & Day, US Year & Day, US
Then I Met You, Korea Then I Met You, Korea

Emotionship Marketing

We are just beginning to rethink the hierarchy of relationships in a person’s life. A study from Northwestern University found that rather than searching for ‘the one’, people need multiple ‘emotionships’. It suggested that people with more emotionships – that is, different people to cater for different emotions – have more overall life satisfaction. ‘People who diversify their emotional needs across multiple relationships (turning to your sister when you feel anxious, turning to your best friend when you are sad, turning to your roommate when you are angry) may be better off than those who tend to concentrate their emotional needs on one or two close relationships,’ says Elaine Cheung, co-author of the study.

As we realise that marriage is not the apex of relationships, brands must ensure their products and services cater for the different emotional needs of their customers and help them enrich their many relationships – rather than focusing on one ultimate relationship.

One brand experimenting with emotionships is Then I Met You, a new skincare range from K-beauty retailer Soko Glam. The line consists of a cleansing gel and balm, but the concept is based on the Korean principle of jeong, which refers to the cultivation of deep personal bonds through unselfish acts. ‘Jeong is all about asking people to take time for others,’ explains Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam. Customers receive a pre-stamped postcard and are encouraged to send a hand-written message to someone. In addition, the brand’s Instagram followers receive weekly tips on creating better jeong in their lives. It offers a glimpse of how, in the future, brands could encourage people to make connections beyond themselves.

Naive, Supernative, film by CMTV and Antoine Bal Naive, Supernative, film by CMTV and Antoine Bal

Uncoupling Coupledom

The acceptance of singledom as a lifestyle will inevitably affect couples too. One of the distinct motivations of the happily single is an unwillingness to settle with any partner – they’d rather be alone than unhappily married. This is because marriage now ‘places a premium on spouses helping each other meet their authenticity and personal-growth needs,’ Eli Finkel, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, writes in his book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage.

Marriage has become an elite, individualist, voluntary, consumption-orientated arrangement

The result is more individualistic marriages – with each partner striving to retain their individuality. 'Marriage has become an elite, individualist, voluntary, consumption-orientated arrangement' argues Mark Regnerus, sociologist at University of Texas at Austin. ‘While the dyad – the couple – is the basic structure to the union, it is never to usurp the individual’s primacy and will.’ This attitudinal shift means brands can no longer take for granted the married couple as a unit, but must constantly address the individualistic needs of both people.

What’s more, in the future, the couple will be only one permutation of partnerships as more people explore non-monogamous relationships. While there are no firm numbers on the rise in polyamory, in the US, 44% of Americans under 30 indicated they might be open to trying relationships outside monogamy (source: YouGov).

Alex Sanson, a 28-year-old in a polycule (polyamorous relationship) of four, tells The Guardian: ‘Growing up, you’re bombarded by all this messaging about the perfect relationship set-up. You’re going to have a family and buy a house and do this and that. But a lot of that isn’t relevant to my generation.’ For brands, the message is clear: in the future, coupling up may no longer be the default marketing message when more people are choosing relationships outside of that dynamic or no romantic relationship at all.

Lab Notes

Honia by Atelier Martini, photography by Pszemek Dzienis Honia by Atelier Martini, photography by Pszemek Dzienis

Lab Notes

1. Singledom is often by circumstance, but is increasingly by choice too. With people opting to be alone, brands must abandon singlism to show support for this lifestyle choice.

2. Design for solo leisure. Small touches like creating solo booths in a restaurant or offering a miniature tasting menu offer ways for singletons not to feel alienated.

3. Single people have to be self-sufficient and want brands to make their lives easier. Opportunities to create branded support systems for them range from offering affordable services to being their companion in a wellness journey.

4. The uncoupling of society means there is more emphasis on the individual than ever. Brands need to focus less on couples and more on individuals, and their many emotionships, as that is where the future of relationships lies.

5. To discover more about these consumers, who are embracing singledom, celebrating platonic love and exploring the politics of polyamory, meet our newest Tribe members.

In-house Presentation

Book an expert from The Future Laboratory to deliver the insights from our Uncoupled Living macrotrend at your own business or event. Our presentations combine hard data, expert insight and best-in-class case studies, with practical advice on how to harness key trends and future-proof your strategy.

This presentation can be tailored to suit a range of contexts; from leadership programmes to concept development workshops, or as an inspirational keynote for your company conference

Pre-register your interest in our 2019 macrotrends in-house presentations here.

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