Across the globe, single-person households are the fastest growing type of household, which is creating an uncomfortable shift away from the traditional target of families as the source of growth in the marketplace.

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Across the globe, single-person households are the fastest growing type of household, which is creating an uncomfortable shift away from the traditional target of families as the source of growth in the marketplace.

Much of this is due to the longer lifespans, but the bigger part of it is due to lower fertility rates and to young people delaying family formation until their late twenties or early thirties.  Marriage is later and thus so are children and families.

The most important part of this shift is among younger people, who are living as singles much longer than before.  More and more people are now living their twenties as single people not as young people starting families.  In other words, more of the people now in their peak shopping years are looking to satisfy the needs of singles not the needs of families.

To be clear, parents with children are and will be the largest number of households, but far and away, the fastest growth is households of people living alone.  This is where growth is found. The emerging opportunity is single people living alone.  The household needs of single people are growing.  More and more of the marketplace will need to be focused on single-person households.

Historically, the comfort zone of business as usual has been family households.  Young and middle-aged family householders have been the dominant growth engine of the marketplace.  The significant growth in family households during the decades following WW2 came from a demographic boom that gave rise to modern marketing and retailing.  Entire categories have long targeted no one but young mothers in their twenties and thirties.  And it has been a truism of this era that brands ignored consumers over 50 because by that age they were long past their peak shopping years. 

One of the biggest changes will be many more women living alone, apart of families.  This will fundamentally reorient the shopping priorities of women and upend the ways in which women are reached.  This has far-reaching implications since women have always controlled the biggest share of household spending.

And older people living alone need services and solutions in greater numbers than before.  In fact, by definition, lower fertility rates means a bigger share of the population is older, which means more single households.


How It Matters

  • What are the special needs of single households? How well are these needs being served by offerings in the marketplace today?
  • What current business practices and customer strategies will be obsolesced by the center of gravity for growth shifting from family households to single households?
  • What can be done to account for the reduced spending power of households that lack dual incomes?
  • What family-related needs and business categories are likely to decline in importance?
  • Will singles be less tied to home and thus to home-related products and services?
  • What kinds of social entertainments are best suited for singles living alone?
  • How can family-focused brands capture some of the shift in share of wallet to recreation, entertainment, travel, technology, and fashion that young singles will drive? And some of the shift in share of wallet to healthcare services that older singles will drive?
  • How can single households best be segmented to pinpoint pockets of opportunity? Beyond age, what defines the distinctive lifestyle clusters of singles?
  • What will women look for in the marketplace when children and spouses are not part of the equation for them?
  • Will singles be more mobile than families? And if so, how will this affect services that cater to the needs of people moving or to households tied to specific locations?
  • In the absence of children or other adults in the household, what channels of communication will be best? How will world-of-mouth change?
  • Will friendship networks replace family networks, and if so, in what ways?
  • In what ways will work/life balance be affected by the growth of single living? Will this impact patterns of shopping?

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More to Know

In percentage terms, singles are an increasingly important, often dominant, part of many markets.  In absolute numbers, five markets will comprise nearly half of the total projected for 2030 — China with 116 million, the U.S. with 40 million, Germany with 21 million, Russia with 20 million, and Japan with 17 million.  Closest after that are France and Italy with roughly 13 million each, then India and Nigeria with about 12 million each.  Brazil rounds out the top ten with 10 million.

Growth of  single-person households over the next decade is projected at 1.9% CAGR — the fastest growing of all household sizes.

This chart shows projections published by the OECD in 2011.  The very high growth rates of one-person households are changing the make-up of markets worldwide, with singles living alone making up one-quarter to nearly half of households in the near future.