The Top 10 Loneliest Countries in the World: 10. Brazil, 9. Kenya, 8. South Africa, 7. Russia, 6. Canada, 5. The United States of America
There was a time when larger families were the norm. The more children, the better the chance of survival of the family and the family name. As time has progressed, however, household size has decreased with more and more people are choosing a solitary life. Why the shift? Family size in the modern day has less to do with mortality rates and more to do with the cost of living, family dynamics, and an ageing population.
- #10: Brazil
- #9: Kenya
- #8: South Africa
- #7: Russia
- #6: Canada
- #5: The United States of America
- #4: Italy
- #3: Japan
- #2: The United Kingdom
- #1: Sweden
The Effect of Affordability on Family Size
Recent reports from Statistics Canada report that, since 2001, the number of Canadians aged 20 to 34 living at home with their parents has increased to 34.7% from 30.6%. Additionally, only 41.9% of young adults living outside of their parents’ home has a family of their own. This compares to 49.1% in 2001! What has caused this sudden shift in living trends? Researchers believe it has much to do with economic trends. Areas that are seeing a particularly sharp increase in young adults living with their parents (like Toronto) are also showing an incline in the cost of living. Higher costs of housing and higher general cost of living have resulted in more young adults living with their parents while trying to gain their financial independence. With more children staying in the family home for longer periods while they find their footing, fewer young adults are heading out on their own to begin family life. When those young adults do venture out in financial independence, however, they are increasingly likely to live alone, waiting until later in life to have their own family.
Additionally, in countries where the cost of living is lower, more individuals are choosing to live alone simply because they can!
The Effect of Family Dynamics on Family Size
A second influencing factor that has been noted in shifting family size trends, is the changing dynamic of the family unit. As same-sex marriage and partnerships become more accepted, the number of childless households increases. According to Statistics Canada (and likely a result of obstacles to same-sex adoption and parenting), only around 12% of Canadian same-sex couples live with children. This is an incredible drop from the 51.4% of male-female couples who live with children. Just how much has the population of same-sex households increased? Since 2006, the number of same-sex couple households in Canada has increased by 60.7%! Add in the increase in single parent households and it’s easy to see how the average family size is declining!
The Effect of Aging on Family Size
As what was once known as the generation of “baby boomers” grows older, an increasing percentage of the population in countries like Canada are beginning their retirement. This increase in the average age of the population means fewer households with children. Additionally, as this section of the population reach later retirement age, they reflect an increase in the number of widows and widowers living alone.
Will These Trends Continue?
Over the past few decades, there is no doubt that family size is trending towards the smaller side, but are these trends expected to continue? For now, there is no definitive answer. In the short term, it is likely that smaller families will become the norm, that children will live with their parents for longer periods, and when they do seek independence, they will wait longer to have their own family. For the long term, however, things very much depend upon shifts in economic trends and the progression of changes in family dynamics.
But What Does It Mean to Be a “Lonely Country”?
As the average family size changes, some countries reflect a noticeable incline in the number of individuals living alone. These countries are referred to as being “lonely.”
What are the loneliest countries in the world? Let’s take a look…
#10 – Brazil
The first country on the list of the top 10 loneliest countries is Brazil with 10% of the population living alone. Like many of the other countries mentioned on this list, Brazil has seen a shift in young adults seeking financial independence prior to establishing a family of their own. This trend has resulted in more and more people living alone as they establish their careers.
What does the future predict for Brazilian households? Can we expect to see an increase in the number of single-member homes? The answer to this question is yet to be determined. The shaky political climate and the crippled economy in Brazil indicate that if the number of single-member households doesn’t decline, it will at least remain stable. With increasing unemployment levels, decreasing economic growth, decreasing GDP, and increasing public debt, it would take a real overhaul to increase the number of financially independent individuals in Brazil.
#9 – Kenya
According to statistics from Statistic Brain, 15% of Kenya’s population currently lives in single-person households. Certainly, this pales in comparison to the #1 country on this list, but what is it that has 15% of Kenyans living alone? Unfortunately, for the majority of Kenyan’s living alone is not a choice. Over the past 12 years, the number of elderly living alone as a result of poor economic conditions has been on the rise.
Can Kenya expect to see a reduction in the number of individuals living alone in the near future? The answer really is up in the air. Despite the improvement in the resources made available to the elderly population by issuing a monthly stipend to the elderly, the number of elderly in the country continues to be problematic.
There is small hope, however, that should political stability take hold, the Kenyan economy has the potential for improvement. Should this happen, it is possible that fewer people will be forced to live alone and will receive more governmental support. Just whether the government will be able to offer the level of support needed, however, is a whole other question. Currently, the increase in public debt, increase in population, and slow economic growth all suggest that a mass overhaul will be needed before any real change can be seen.
#8 – South Africa
South Africa ranks 8th in terms of the world’s loneliest countries with 24% of the population living alone. What is driving this trend? Slowing growth in the housing market has contributed to more people being able to afford to live alone. Additionally, fewer individuals are getting married due to the exorbitant cost of marriage. This leads to an increasing number of individuals living alone as well as single parent households.
Does the future predict increasing numbers of one-person households for South Africa? This one is a little trickier to predict. Both the political and economic climate in South Africa are unstable. Economic growth has hit a four-year low, investments have slowed to crawling, industrial production is still low, the unemployment rate is still climbing, and the level of public debt is at an all-time high. Should the political climate change and confidence in the economy grow, it is possible that more families will be able to afford multi-person households. Should things remain the same, however, there is little change predicted in the country’s percentage of single-person households.
#7 – Russia
According to Statistic Brain, some 25% of Russians now live in a single person household. That’s just 2 percentage points less of the population than in Canada. So, why are Russians choosing to live alone? Like Canadians, many Russian young adults no longer place a high priority on marriage, rather, they aim for success in their career first. This change in priorities has resulted in larger numbers of young adults living alone prior to marriage in later life.
Similar to the United States and Canada, the largest proportion of those who live alone in Russia, live in large cities. These cities, like Moscow (where the cost of living is among the highest in the world) attract young professionals with higher paying employment opportunities.
Are more Russians expected to live in a single-person home in the future? The political and economic climate suggest not. Economic growth in Russia has been slowing since 2012, that and a significant decrease in exports both predict less opportunity for financial stability. It is more likely that Russia will see an increase in the number of adult children returning to live at home with their parents in the future, much like economically suffering cities in the U.S.
#6 – Canada
The sixth loneliest country in the world is Canada with 27% of the country’s population living alone! Why are more Canadians living alone these days? Blame it on financial independence. That’s right, increasing numbers of Canadians are finding stability in the workplace and financial security, allowing more people to move out on their own. Similar to big cities in the United States, Canadians tend towards single households in the larger cities like Quebec where higher paying jobs facilitate independence.
It’s not only financial independence that has led to solitary living, however. Many sociologists claim that social changes like the reduction in marriage rates and the availability of social media have helped the process. With less demand to marry and have a family and increased ability to switch friends on and off as desired, more Canadians are seeking a solitary life.
Is this trend in solitary living expected to continue among Canadians in the future? While the number of one-person households seems to be slowing in growth after a 65-year long upward trend, it shows no sign of decline. The slowed growth can be attributed to a reduction in GDP and slowed economic growth, however, stable rates of unemployment and public debt indicate no downward trend in independent living.
#5 – The United States of America
1 percentage point above Canada, some 28% of the American population live alone. Unlike other countries on the list, the United States is somewhat unique in that many people live alone simply because they want to! This is particularly the case in larger cities like San Francisco and Manhattan. The “living alone in the big city” trend has been attributed to popular TV shows that highlight the freedom and “glamour” of living alone.
Is the number of Americans living alone expected to continue increasing in the near future? It is unlikely. Robust real estate prices predict reduced numbers of home sales and an increased number of adult children moving back in with their parents in lieu of first time buying. With that said, however, recent research indicates an increased preference for solitary lifestyles among newer generations. Pair this tendency with the steady increase in GDP since 2012 and a decline in unemployment, and there is potential for a continued upward surge in solitary living. This trend may be hampered, however, by an increase in public debt and a slight decline in U.S. industrial production if numbers continue on their current path.
#4 – Italy
With 29% of households consisting of just one individual, Italy comes in at 2 percentage points more of the population living alone than Canada. Why do so many Italians live alone? Unlike other nations on the list, Italy is somewhat unique. Much of the Italian population live alone simply because of the low cost of housing. The more affordable housing becomes, the more individuals are prompted to invest in their own homes.
It is not only real estate prices and home ownership that affect the composition of Italian households, however. The distribution of the Italian population is also to blame. Italy has a particularly uneven distribution of its population with larger numbers of citizens living in Northern industrialized cities and much fewer living in smaller Southern Italian cities.
Will solitary living trends continue in Italy? Yes, at least in the short term as far as property prices are concerned. According to financial forecasts, the next year holds the promise of continued property price decline and low mortgage rates. In the bigger picture, things are a little more uncertain. An increase in terrorist activity throughout other European countries is anticipated to lead to an influx of immigrants to “safer” countries like Italy. Additionally, lower property prices will attract those looking for home ownership at a lower cost.
#3 – Japan
According to recent statistics from Statistic Brain, some 31% of the Japanese population lives alone. That’s 4 percentage points more than the population of Canadians living alone. Why are so many Japanese living the solitary life? It seems that unlike many other lonely countries, some Japanese citizens actually do live alone out of loneliness. Statistically noted as the nation that has sex the least – resulting in low birthrates – the number of individuals living alone in Japan has steadily increased since the mid 1950s.
It is not only a lack of “closeness” that has contributed to this increase, however but an increase in elderly individuals living alone. According to Japanese census numbers based on Tokyo, from 1980 to 2010 there was an increase of 520,000 elderly individuals living alone. This is thought to be a shift in the traditional cultural norm of caring for elderly family members as well as a direct result of lower birth rates.
Can Japan expect to see a reduction in the number of individuals living alone in the future? Research shows a small increase in the country’s birthrate which holds small promise for larger households. With some 6 million elderly currently living alone, however, it will take more than a 0.41 million increase in households with children under 18 to make a big enough difference on family dynamics. However, factor in the expectation of slower economic growth in the coming months and the possibility of political overhaul and, while more individuals may be living alone, the percentage is not likely to see a sharp upward spike either.
#2 – The United Kingdom
Great Britain is the second loneliest country in the world with an incredible 34% of the population living in single person households. This is still 7 percentage points higher than Canadians living in single person homes. Why are so many Britons living a solitary lifestyle? The answer lies on both ends of the extreme.
One contributing factor is that Britain has a stable welfare system and that system rewards those who are poor or on unemployment compensation who live alone with an increase in benefits. Due to this, more individuals are choosing a solitary life in order to reap more benefits. So popular is this trend of living that the nation has seen a steady decline in the length of long-lasting marriages! Why would anyone choose this type of lifestyle? Although many frown at the idea of living on a welfare system, the current economic condition in Britain makes owning property increasingly difficult. By choosing a life on welfare, these individuals can live in affordable housing and take advantage of added benefits.
Is Britain projected to see any change in the number of single person households in the near future? With the current Brexit situation, it is unlikely that the percentage of Britons living alone will decline. In fact, many project that the economic fallout of Brexit will result in an increased drain on the country’s welfare system. Whether the British welfare system can withstand this increased demand is unknown.
#1 – Sweden
Sweden tops the list when it comes to the loneliest countries in the world. The reason? Sweden thrives on a stable welfare system, where single occupancy apartments are incredibly affordable. With plenty of these affordable apartments available, almost one-half of the nation’s population lives alone! According to Statistics Brain, 47% of Swedish households are currently occupied by only one person, that’s 20 percentage points more than Canadian households!
So worried is the Swedish nation over the state of isolation of its citizens, that they have introduced a collective housing concept. Designed to bring people together these communally owned houses are still being rejected in favor of solitary living.
What are projections for future households in Sweden? The stability of the Swedish welfare system has resulted in a fairly consistent trend of increased solitary living. Additionally, a reluctance to take part in collective housing efforts indicates stable if not increasing numbers of single member households. How big of an increase should be expected? This depends on the fallout of current political scandal, the continued increase in home prices, and whether or not household debt levels continue to rise.
In looking at this list of the world’s top 10 loneliest countries, it seems ironic that two nations can have directly opposing justification as to why more individuals are living alone. For example, in Canada, more independence and financial freedom have resulted in more people being able to afford to live alone. In contrast, however, more Kenyans are living alone due to poor economic conditions. How can this be? It all comes down to geographic location, economic status, and political climate. For a Canadian, living alone in Toronto is a luxury, for an elderly Kenyan, however, living alone is a burden, limiting access to valuable resources and only worsening situations of poverty. It seems almost ironic that two nations could value companionship so differently, but in reality, it is simply a reflection of global inequality.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.