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Korean Society: Heaven for Single HouseholdersTransition from communities to individuals
  ▲ Markets are displaying products for single householders. /Photograph by Choi Young-eun  
The recent global social revolution of single household trend is making changes to global society, as well as in Korea. In the case of Korea, the rate of single households has steadily risen from nine percent in 1990 to 23.9 percent in 2010, and it is expected that this rate will increase further to 32.7 percent in 2030. This alteration not only implies a mere statistical change, but has also brought changes to every part of society, including consumption, culture, and every related social and lifestyle trend.

   Global society is going through big changes in living styles due to single householders. Italy has a 50 percent rate of single households in big cities, Milano having about a quarter of singles among its population. According to the German Federal Statistics Office, single households in Germany total about 40.5 percent of all households in 2013. In the case of Japan and China, the rates are also increasing, reaching 30 percent and 43.2 percent respectively. The main causes of this phenomenon are people’s willingness to not to be bound to marriage and to be deviated from the typical life course.

   Korea has the fastest rate of growth of single households in the world. The biggest reason is the change in marriage values, which women’s greater independence has had a huge effect on. Other than this, the spread of individualism, hardships among young generation, and more women becoming involved with social affairs have also played a role in this trend.

   Increase in single householders has brought significant changes to consumption patterns of people. This created the new term, “singlesumer”, made by the combination of the words “single” and “consumer.” Since single householders spend much more than people living in households with more than two people, products customized for singles are surging, which follow four principles of the consumption pattern; self, online, low price, and one-stop.


   The first feature of the pattern is pursuing miniature sizes. Compact packing for single householders has become a very popular trend, and household appliances are one of the fields that reflect the alteration. The scale of a market for mini household appliance was 3.6 trillion won in 2014, which was a huge growth by 240 billion won compared to 2012. Mini water purifiers, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, washing machines, rice cookers, and so on are popular items among singles. Jeong Bo-rim, majoring in the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism said that she does not need anything “big” when living alone. “I happen to live alone since my family lives in Changwon. I bought every appliance in small sizes. My Humidifier, vacuum and fan are all small so that they do not take much space in my room and single householders do not need them in big sizes anyway.”
“Small, Simple, Speedy”, are the 3S principles for food products targeted for single householders. In a lot of cases, singles are busy and tend to have less time to cook and prepare meals for themselves. Many food companies have devised small-packaged food products which are made for singles that do not have time, but demand health and good taste. Curry Queen from Chungjungone is one example of this small packing food. The product has quantity for only few people and it is made for speedy cooking. However, the ingredients and nutrition are much considered to entice busy singles.

   Convenience stores are gaining popularity due to this small packaging trend. With the rise of single households, the number of stores has increased by 52 percent up to the end of 2013 compared to 2010, and sales have swelled by about 61.2 percent. It is easy to discover the popularity of food from convenience store when thinking of various kinds of boxed meals they provide. Other than that, cleansed fruits or boiled eggs sold by individual pieces for singles are also very easy to find in every convenience store. Baek Soo-kyung, a single householder from Busan who is majoring in the Department of English Language and Literature at Soongsil University said, “I buy a lot of food from convenience stores such as GS25 and CU.” Baek said that those small packed food are perfect for singles who are too lazy to prepare meals for themselves. “A lot of times, it is very tiresome to cook and boil rice every time. Instead, I just head to convenience stores and grab a lunch box. Some people think those food are in low quality, but I personally think that they are unexpectedly in good qualities, and even taste good.”

More for oneself

   People who live alone started to turn their eyes towards self development. Singles lave less duties to sacrifice or support families, and so is more generous spending money for themselves. The increase of single households has resulted in more people who choose to follow their hobbies and interests rather than pursue marriage or supporting a family. The study market for adults has expanded, including foreign languages, sports or culture programs. In 2011, single women in 20s to 30s spend an average of 19.3 thousand won for studying, which was much higher than women living in households with more than two people who spend an average or 10.8 thousand won. This trend contributed to the creation of a new type of consumption called “FOR ME” spending, which refers to generous consumption by singles who believe something is worth spending money on, regardless of high price. Researchers say that the reason why “small extravagances” such as sport, art and so on are booming in an economic recession period is that it includes spending as a kind of self compensation for  those single householders who are going through hard times. Jung Hoon, a researcher from KB Financial Holdings Management Institute said, “Consumption related to the increase in single households is heading upward.” Jung added that the reason why spending on entertainment including karaoke bar has decreased while self “healing” consumptions such as fashion and travel increased can be explained by the transition in spending pattern in society nowadays.”

Media targets singles


   The “single” trend is also reflected in social media. Television shows are constantly producing programs related to cooking and eating, called “mukbang” or “cookbang.” <Take Care of My Refrigerator> from JTBC, <Tasty Road> from Olive, and <Three Meals a Day> from tvN are programs that drew public interest by dealing with food content. This is not just a simple fashion, but can be viewed as a phenomenon closely related to society, industrial structure and change in family forms. Living alone has triggered a sense of attachment and the desire to eat meals with their families together, which those programs satisfy vicariously. Moreover, people who prefer “for me” consumption look for food that can satisfy not only their simple hunger, but also food choices that are healthy. Accordingly, the interest toward food and its ingredients has also grown. Popular culture critic Jeong Duk-Hyun said, “There are a lot of cases people get stress from weary lives and gloomy future, and they chose food as a way to relieve their mind. That is why it is easy to find contents related to food and cooking.” 

   According to a survey about living alone conducted by MK Business News, the biggest strengths of being a single were no interference of living choices, single householders can do and decide on what they want, and they get to have more time thinking alone. This survey reveals the spread of individualism in Korean society nowadays. On the other hand, the answers on negative aspects were loneliness, feeling of being left alone, no one to eat with, and lack of communication with neighbors. These answers indicate that anxiety, sense of isolation and fading community spirits are the potential problems that people and the society should keep in mind. Lee Dong-hyung, majoring in Ethics Education at Seoul National University said that he feels lonely especially during weekends. “I bring my friends into my house on weekdays,” Lee said. “Because of that, I do not feel that much of loneliness, but on weekends, when there are no classes, I miss people. Not just my friends but the connection between people.”

   As the global society is changing with the trend of single lifestyle increasing, Korean society is also following its way. More people are spending time alone, and a lot of parts of society are not like the past anymore. There should be clear measures to deal with the transition, as this cannot be viewed only in a positive way. Korean society needs to keep up with the change in social structures. Rapid increase in single households requires more infrastructure and systems, such as more supplies of shared houses and small house construction. Programs encouraging community programs can also be another way to prepare for future society in the long term. There are no huge changes made in the society yet, but it is clear that the society should prepare for rapidly dashing waves.

Choi Young-eun  ye_1277@dongguk.edu

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