Although single-person households show the highest average spending per person among all household types, this is mostly a result of the singles group in their 30s and 40s who are actively engaged in the economy and financially secure.
Then comes those in their 50s and 20s – groups that are less financially stable but still make a living. A large portion of their spending goes on food, mostly convenient food items represented by HMR products such as Yorihada or Peacock.
But the fastest-growing contributor to the increasing number of single-person households is South Korea’s elderly population. According to Statistics Korea, a third of the single-person households are currently aged over 60 years, and by 2035, this age group will account for over 50% of solo residents.
Indeed, single Koreans in their 60s are perhaps the most concerning group when it comes to mental and physical wellbeing. Retired, unemployed, divorced or bereaved, they are often involuntarily living alone simply due to their age. Often unable to make ends meet, their pension is spent on necessities and utility bills. Even if they want to spend their money on healthcare, most can’t afford it. As a result, the percentage of chronic diseases and hospitalisation rates are higher in these older households.
In terms of mental health, loneliness and depression are looming issues. The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs estimates four out of 10 elderly people living alone suffer from depression, while one in 10 have thought of taking their own lives. This is double the number of those living with families.
Products and services continue to be developed to cater to this single segment, from insurance for solitary death to assist landlords after a single tenant dies, to safety alarms and internet of things (IoT) products that send family members an alert if at-home inactivity lasts for more than 48 hours.
However, in my view, much more needs to be done to positively support older singles. As our society ages and the number of elderly single households grows, there is an urgent need for businesses to provide services and products that are necessary and useful for the aged, at an affordable price. It’s time for businesses to turn their eyes to supporting the elderly and vulnerable singles, instead of the young and moneyed.
Suhyoung Yun is a freelance journalist and contributor to media companies including the South China Morning Post and The Korea Times.
For more insight on the impact of single-person households and the movement towards less traditional living, read our Macrotrend : Uncoupled Living.
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