Singlehood: Emerging Identity or Economic Crisis?

Singlehood is a word that is going to bring different meanings to different people with smiles, fears, and anxiety. But, for a small set of economists, this is a sign of worry. So, what is Singlehood, and why do these economists fear it?

In simple terms, singlehood is a state of being single and not married. But, this varies from country to country. It can also be about someone who is not married but is still in a romantic relationship. An individual who was married but is now divorced can also be part of this group. The definition is specific but the application is large.

So, why are economists worried about people staying single?  And, why are people staying single? Let’s first understand the reason for worries for economists and then we will discuss the reasons for people staying single.  

Japan’s Population Projection till 2060

Have a look at this chart with data taken from Wikipedia showcasing the population growth of Japan over the 100 years cycle. Based on current numbers, it is also projecting the state of population in the year 2060. Through the chart, we can easily say that Japan is getting old. More people are going to be in the age group of 65+ than people in the 0-14 years in the future. That means more people are going to die than the number of people born if this trend continues. According to economists, a healthy balance in the population is necessary to replace deaths with births. Why so?

The lesser number of young people means less number of people available for work. That means less tax collection for the government. It also means fewer savings in the banking system with even less money to lend. With the growth of the elderly population, the Japanese government has to spend more money on taking care of these people without having money to support them. With fewer people in society, more & more elderly people will be left out of elderly care support in the form of caregivers, doctors, and old age homes. This may mean the ending of various social services.

To maintain high living standards despite the declining population, the Japanese government may increase the tax rates for the upcoming generation. But such a step will not go well in a democracy for a long time. Fewer people also mean a reduction in the consumer base and thereby a reduction in GDP.

Social scientists are worried that this may eventually mean the extinction of Japanese society. In many villages in Japan, only elderly people are staying. These towns may become ghost towns in the future. In such cases, no one will be there to carry forward the local customs and traditions.

This trend is not confined to only Japan. It has been observed in other developed countries like South Korea, Germany, and many other developing nations like Romania, and Bulgaria. Decades of one-child policy in China led to the decline in the young population and now they are witnessing rapid growth in older people.

So, what does this have to do anything with Singlehood? Everything. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that with more people staying single, there be fewer families and less number of children being born. This is the demographic crisis everyone talking about in some countries. With the world population rising everyday, overall, we have more people than we can sustain but in the developed world with higher standards of living, this is a crisis they are unable to solve.

Now you know Singlehood can be one of the reasons for this demographic crisis. The big question is, why are people staying single?

There are no specific reasons. Some chose to remain single while others are forced to remain single due to a host of social and financial factors. I will use my own observation and studies to focus on social, financial, and personal aspects of this trend. These are just my observation and they don’t need to be true in all scenarios.

Financial: It is one of the prominent reasons for many people to stay single. We will discuss following 3 aspects associated with a financial reason.

  1. High cost of living: In the past 2-3 decades, more and more people moved into urban centers/cities for better career opportunities. Such high population growth created the rise in prices of basic essentials like housing, healthcare insurance, education, and transportation. The rise in wages has not been on par with rising costs. There has been a perception that bigger urban centers offer good opportunities for everyone. It is true for educated & skilled professionals. This may not be true for unskilled professionals. Having a family in such conditions was a no-go for many youngsters in big cities.
  2. Social Security: Some countries in the Nordic still offer rare social security to those in need. Despite higher taxes, individuals can rely on governments to provide health services and education. This takes a lot of pressure from an individual person’s mind. This is not the case with other nations. An individual has to earn enough money, then think about saving money for his children’s education. He also needs to worry about his own health expenditure. This in turn force people to think carefully before having children. China’s one-child policy is a good example. Recently, the Chinese government has reversed its policy, thereby allowing couples to have more than one child. But, the majority of couples did not find it appealing as the rising costs of raising a child without any state support, on top of the rising living costs is too much to bear.

Although the taxation system in every country prioritized having a family by providing various incentives; the financial health of an individual is affected the personal choices like this.

Social factors: Unless someone prefer a nomadic life, we all live in a fully functional society. Living in a society also means following some unwritten rules. Some of these rules are forcing people to junk the idea of commitment altogether.

  1. Strict gender roles: It is the most controversial and deeply embed rules in our society. Until a few decades ago, primarily it was the job of man to earn livelihood and it was the job of the female to maintain house. The task of raising children also fallen onto the hands of the female. There were certainly notable exceptions in some societies/countries but this was pretty much the same.However, situation has been constantly changing in the 21st century. More and more women are breaking the traditional norm and entering the workforce. They do not want to remain stay in the traditional gender roles defined & followed by the society for centuries. Similarly, despite more women entering the workforce, social norms still dictate men to be the primary bread-winner in a family.  This is creating some tensions as society is very slow to change in their belief system. Many youngsters are feeling unprepared to enter into a committed relationship in such a changing social scenario.This has reduced marriage rates and in-turn fall in the birth rates. Governments in South Korean and Japan tried to promote marriages by giving incentives to youngsters but that did not arrest fall in marriage rates.

2. Lack of Family/Social Support: With greater urbanization and ever growing challenges, more & more individuals are staying away from the family. In eastern culture, what used to be a joint family, now converting into a nuclear family structure. In a big city where both husband & wife are working full time to maintain a good lifestyle, having child is a costly affair. Without any family to support them, those couples find it difficult to raise a child on their own.In some western countries and even in soviet union, the government provided a lot of support to such families. State took care of child care in form of kindergarden, kerche near the workplace. It made it lot easier for both husband & wife to raise children. This is not the case in other countries where such role is generally played by extended family members. With the break up of large family structure, this is no longer a possibility.  All such changes are forcing couples to avoid having children. In many cultures, having children is must after the marriage. To avoid such social pressure, many youngsters are avoiding marriage altogether.

3. Social status: This is very subjective. Social status has always played an important part in a way people find their life partners. In ancient times, marriages were fixed by families after carefully matching social status of the other side. Marriage was less of an individual affair and more of a family affair at that time. Things have slightly changed with more and more individuals are making their own choices in finding life partner. But certain social status in terms of education level, income level, and family background are still relevant. Many individuals prefer to maintain this social status and try to find partners in the similar circles. This affect their partner search and failing to find one, they may stay single forever.

Personal Reasons: All of these are based on my observations and they may or may need to be true for everyone else.

  1. I vs we: Being part of family means working as a team. That’s where an individual has to give up certain individual rights and compromise while living with other people. Many people are staying single as it is difficult for them to come to terms with this kind of arrangement. An individual experiencing freedom in deciding what’s best for his/her life suddenly feel like being trapped and robbed of his independence.

There has been a good time to explore the world, to try new hobbies, and living a non-traditional life. This is what many perceive a freedom and they feel a committed relationship will put a break on this. And even more, they feel like having children will simply tied them up. People have endless hobbies, bucket lists, that they want to achieve in the life. There has never been a better time for being single, earn money, and spend all on yourself. Why would anyone wants to ruin it?

Feeling of freedom and scared of commitment especially when so much is at stake. An individual can move around, change jobs, change cities as per his/her wish without the fear of commitment. The commitment means staying at one place, focusing on only certain aspects of life.

2. Life on a credit: This has been a generational shift in thinking on how to handle money. Previous generation was not so keen on borrowing money. They chose to save money and used it to buy house, car, and other necessities. In this generation, it is relatively easy to borrow money. Not many never understood that money borrowed has to be paid back with interest in the future. So many youngsters are falling under debt due to education loans, car loans, foreign trip loans, housing loans and host of other things. This is a generation under debt. And such debts are making them difficult to make life choices like getting married, having a family etc etc.

3. No personal time:  This varies a lot for every individual from place to place. We live in a very competitive world. Fierce competition means people think less about their personal lives. In a tough environment, when an individual can be easily replaced, many youngsters tend to spend more hours at work. Adding longer commuting hours to and fro from workplace left no time for themselves. This has resulted many individuals postponing or completely abandoning plans to get married or having families. This could very well be exaggerating the situation but I have witnessed in some people myself.

4. Social Media & Insecurity: Both of these are different yet interconnected. Every individual has high expectations in terms of accomplishing many goals in a short span of time. Social media also fuels this expectation when individuals compare them with other perfect life stories on instagram, facebook. This alienates individuals and put them on a path to achieve this perfect life by sacrificing everything else. Today, there is a less security in the minds of youngsters in terms of jobs, friendships, and relationships. People don’t feel like having enough to end something and they keep on moving from one goal post to another. This has created a deep mistrust even amongst the married couples with many reports indicating social media as a main driver of conflict between those two. Combined with other factors, social media is creating a lot of problems in creating false expectations. This is leading to trust issues and in turn forcing people to avoid commitments.

5. Lack of guidance: This is my personal observation. The breakdown of family structure and lack of knowledge transfer from elder to younger generation is creating a guidace gap. That is making youngsters to search for answers and guidance somewhere else. Today’s role model of youngsters entering into life are celebrities and influencers. There is nothing wrong in this but somehow many individuals today are struggling to find their place in society, life. The fast pace of changes are also making them impatient and the social media is only making it worse. Alienation from the guidance, away from the support system, and misguided by the social media. Many people are finding it difficult to consider the idea of long term commitment.

Conclusion:

There are host of other factors on why people are choosing singlehood, why they are not having children, and why there is a demographic crisis in some countries. At the same time, the aggregate global population is exploding. Therefore, we have two different worlds with 2 different problems. One is suffering from the lack of population and another with overpopulation. In principle, movement of people from one part of the world to the another part could bring some balance. But, that’s not so simple. Many traditional societies are not receptive of the idea of having too many foreigners living in their countries and disturbing homogeneous social living. That’s why, So far, the steps taken by the governments in Japan, South Korea to boost immigration have not support by the population by large. The government could improve the support system to the younger generation to encourage them to get married, have families, and solve this problem themselves. That could be the only way for societies not receptive to the idea of large scale migration.

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