Life without copilot a growing phenomenon

2024-05-25 09:42:43China Daily Editor : Mo Honge ECNS App Download

Xu Fan, a 31-year-old human resources worker in Beijing, has lived alone for five years, which suits her yearning for complete freedom and control over her ways of doing things.

"I can decorate my apartment the way I like and keep it clean and organized without worrying about tolerating another's preferences or habits," Xu said.

She also considers herself an introvert, longing for solitude after work.

"I enjoy solitude and, with my mobile phone and the internet, I get to have fun by myself and chat with friends online," she said.

While empty-nest seniors tend to end up living alone because of the death of spouses or grown-up children living far away, young and middle-age adults like Xu represent a growing demographic group in China that seeks and takes pleasure in going solo.

In 2000, about 2.52 percent of Chinese households had a single occupant, but the ratio rose to peak at nearly 25.4 percent in 2020. The ratio decreased since then but was at nearly 16.8 percent in 2022, said the National Bureau of Statistics.

A report released by Beike Research Institute, a property information and analysis platform, also showed that the number of people living alone in China is expected to reach 150-200 million by 2030. Among this potentially lonely and sizeable demographic, the number of young adults aged 20 to 39 living by themselves is expected to reach between 40 and 70 million by 2030.

Mu Guangzong, a professor at Peking University's Institute of Population Research, said in a signed article that the nation's declining fertility rate, the growing population of unmarried individuals, increasingly frequent cross-regional migration and shifts in attitudes towards the notion of family are major factors driving the trend.

As the average household size in China fell from 3.1 in 2010 to 2.62 in 2020, Mu said that China is heading toward "a single society" and "an era of living alone".

Will Wu, a 34-year-old resident in Beijing who uses his English name for privacy, said that he occasionally feels lonely during holidays, especially when he stayed in Beijing for Spring Festival holidays due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"But overall, there were only fleeting moments of loneliness and through reading, watching movies or dramas, they quickly dissipated," he said. "Living solo does not mean being on my own all the time, and I do enjoy hanging out with my friends over the weekend as well."

While many people in their 30s thrive while living alone, they do not rule out the possibility of forming a family in the future.

"There are certainly downsides to my way of living. I get scared at home after watching a horror movie and have concerns about safety when returning home late at night," said Xu. "I am also unable to handle power outages or blocked drains on my own and have to call a handyman to help me fix stuff. I will not easily change my situation at present. But in the future, I will naturally begin living with another person after getting married," she said.

Data shows that the population of single people aged 20 to 49 in China grew by nearly 2 percent from 2010 to 2020 to 134 million. The most dramatic spike occurred among women aged 35 to 49 that saw a 122 percent jump over the decade.

However, experts said that many unmarried adults still aspire to marriage and more efforts are needed to create favorable conditions for them to tie the knot.

A study led by researchers from the Population Development Studies Center at Renmin University of China shows marriage generally remains an essential institution in China, which distinguishes it from the diminishing emphasis on the value of family seen in many Western countries.

"Contrary to the stereotype that older, unmarried individuals are simply unwilling to get married, the majority are still looking forward to marriage," said the study published last month. "People are paying more attention to personalities and character traits when choosing a potential partner, but financial pressure is the primary hindrance. It is important to provide them with supportive policies to address their concerns."

Guo Yuankai, a researcher at the China Youth and Children Research Center, said that living alone can improve young adults' time management and career planning ability, and the rising trend has advanced development in sectors like food delivery, pet care and small household appliances.

"But the sense of solitude and pessimism associated with having no copilot also has a detrimental effect on their physical and mental health," Guo said.

Guo suggested authorities dedicate more efforts to addressing key needs of young adults in housing, employment, marriage and childbirth.


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