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Where in the World Do People Live Alone?

In some nations, nearly every other household consists of a person living alone.

Key points

  • There are nations in which close to half of all households have a person living alone.
  • The nation where people are least likely to live alone is Afghanistan.
  • In Norway, if you randomly knocked on doors, almost every other time, you would be greeted by a person who is living alone.

In many nations, living alone is so commonplace, it seems unremarkable. Historically, though, it is quite remarkable how recent a phenomenon it is. Less than a century ago, very few people lived alone anywhere in the world (typically, under 10 percent of all households, and often way less than that).

There are still some places where living alone is rare, but now there are nations in which close to half of all households are one-person households. The growing significance of solo living is also evident in how it has eclipsed other kinds of living arrangements. In the U.S., for example, there are more households consisting of one person living alone than of married parents and their children; and the US is nowhere near the top of the pack in terms of the popularity of solo living.

Which Countries Have the Highest Proportions of People Living Alone?

Global data on living alone are available at the website “Our World in Data,” in the section on living alone. From the chart, “Percentage of one-person households, 1960 to 2018,” I clicked the “table” tab to find the specific percentages for each nation for the most recent data available (2018 or sometimes earlier).

The nations with the highest percentage of households that are one-person households, 40 percent or more, are:

  • 45.8 percent Norway
  • 44.1 percent Denmark
  • 43.0 percent Finland
  • 42.5 percent Sweden
  • 41.7 percent Germany
  • 40.3 percent Estonia

That means that in Norway, if you were to knock on doors at random, almost every other time, you would be greeted by a person who is living alone. In all of these places, you would find a person living alone at least 40 percent of the time.

All of these are Nordic nations, except for Estonia (a Baltic nation) and Germany. Iceland, another Nordic country, also has a high percentage of one-person households: 31.0 percent.

Other nations in which more than 30 percent of households are one-person households are (starting with the highest percentages) the Netherlands, Switzerland, Lithuania, Austria, France, Latvia, Belgium, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, and Sint Maarten (Dutch part).

Which Countries Have the Lowest Proportions of People Living Alone?

The nation where people are least likely to live alone is Afghanistan, where just 0.2 percent of all households are one-person households. In Pakistan, just 1.1 percent of households are one-person households, and in Iraq, just 1.2 percent (but the most recent data are not very recent, 1997).

Other countries in which fewer than 5 percent of all households are one-person households are (starting with the smallest percentages) Bangladesh, Yemen, Tajikistan, Niger, Mali, Cambodia, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, South Sudan, Jordan, Guinea, Nicaragua, Comoros, and the Philippines.

A Sampling of Rates of Solo Living in Other Nations

In the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia, between about one in four and one in three households are one-person households. Rates are similar in South Africa and South Korea. (Again, the data are from 2018 or sometimes earlier.)

  • 29.9 percent UK
  • 28.0 percent US
  • 27.6 percent Canada
  • 26.8 percent South Africa
  • 25.0 percent Australia
  • 23.9 percent South Korea

Living alone is far less common in other countries, such as:

  • 10.0 percent Mexico
  • 8.6 percent China
  • 7.7 percent India

The Psychology and Economics of Living Alone: What Matters?

In a previous post here at Living Single, I described some of the psychological, cultural, and economic factors that help us understand why the rates of living alone are so different in different nations. They include, for example, whether it is possible to live alone (in wealthier nations, more people can afford to do so) and whether it is desirable to live alone (where family ties are more highly valued, more people live with family, even if they can afford to live alone).

In the same post, I also showed how rates of living alone vary, all around the world, depending on age, gender, and marital status. In another Living Single post, I focused specifically on people who live alone in midlife.

One trend is evident for the vast majority of nations: the percentage of people who live alone is growing. Many things will need to change to accommodate this rising demographic, from practical matters to more psychological factors such as our understanding of solo dwellers’ vulnerabilities and strengths, as I’ve discussed here.

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