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The Age of Singlehood Is Coming to Asia

New demographic studies show that singledom is on the rise in Asia.

Key points

  • Demographic studies are shedding light on how singledom is rising throughout Asia.
  • The increase of people living alone coincides with various social changes and trends in globalization, urbanization, and demographics.
  • These changes are occurring throughout Asia despite family, religious, and moral values that remain central in many societies.
Wikimedia
Crude birth and death rate of South Korea 1925-2019
Source: Wikimedia

All over South and East Asia, the age of singlehood is becoming noticeable.

Demographic studies are shedding light on how singledom is on the rise–albeit to different extents–in South Korea,1 Vietnam,2 and indeed across the entire continent,3 indicating that this is a shared trend to countries with varying levels of development, democracy, and religiousness.

The increase of people living alone in these contexts coincides with various social changes and trends in globalization, urbanization, and demographics. This is far from just a local phenomenon.

Yet, in order to paint a clearer picture of the international nature of trends in singlehood, it is essential to look slightly further afield. Are the trends in singledom also apparent in Islamic Asian parts? Are individuals in more conservative societies also spending larger proportions of their lives alone?

Jess Foami from Pixabay
The Age of Singlehood is Coming to Asia
Source: Jess Foami from Pixabay

Within Southeast Asia, the short answer is yes, with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other countries indicating that people are getting married later, getting divorced more frequently, and most significantly, choosing to live alone.4

Yet even more telling is that these trends are evident in conservative and ultra-conservative societies in the Middle East. Notably, unprecedented contemporary changes in singledom patterns have also been recorded in Iran.

Traditionally, relationship patterns in Iran have been strongly influenced by religious and cultural expectations, with legal and societal constructs availing early-age and lifelong marital commitments, with divorce being especially unusual. Yet a look at population statistics reveals that Iran has undergone significant social changes at macro and micro levels over the last three decades.

For instance, the fertility rate saw an unprecedented drop, decreasing from seven children per woman in 1986 to just 2.1 in 2000.5 While this change can be explained by a government program to encourage the use of contraception, a statistical analysis of the trend reveals that contraception awareness and accessibility only account for 61 percent of the change.6

Erfani and McQuillan6 attribute 31 percent of the drop to changes in marriage patterns. In other words, a powerful force behind falling birth rates in Iran is that individuals, particularly women, get married later, get divorced more frequently, stop having children earlier, or choose not to get married in the first place.

In exploring these patterns, Aghajanian and Thompson7 identify the emergence of a “developmental idealism” as indicated by moves towards secularization, individualism, and self-actualization, which in practice are manifested by changes in educational and career goals.

Worth noting here is that these changes are occurring throughout Asia despite family, religious, and moral values that remain central in many of these societies and seemingly in direct opposition to singledom. Yet the shift toward individual and cultural modernity, at least in marriage, divorce, and singledom, is not hindered by ultra-conservative religious and cultural values. While there are some exceptions to the rule, the recent evidence from Iran and other countries demonstrates that, at least in some contexts, these changes are unstoppable.

It seems that the age of singlehood is spreading everywhere. We should therefore prepare future generations for the coming years of singlehood, even in Asia.

References

1. Park, H. and J. Choi, Long-term trends in living alone among Korean adults: Age, gender, and educational differences. Demographic Research, 2015. S15(43): p. 1177-1208.

2. Guilmoto, C. and M. de Loenzien, Emerging, transitory or residual? One-person households in Viet Nam. Demographic Research, 2015. S15(42): p. 1147-1176.

3. Yeung, W.-J.J. and A.K.-L. Cheung, Living Alone: One-person households in Asia. Demographic Research, 2015. S15(40): p. 1099-1112.

4. Podhisita, C. and P. Xenos, Living alone in South and Southeast Asia: An analysis of census data. Demographic Research, 2015. S15(41): p. 1113-1146.

5. Abbasi-Shavazi, M.J., P. McDonald, and M. Hossein Chavoshi, Changes in family, fertility behavior and attitudes in Iran. 2003.

6. Erfani, A. and K. McQuillan, Rapid fertility decline in Iran: analysis of intermediate variables. Journal of biosocial science, 2008. 40(03): p. 459-478.

7. Aghajanian, A. and V. Thompson, Recent Divorce Trend in Iran. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 2013. 54(2): p. 112-125.

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