Increasing Numbers of Single Households in Korea: Lessons from Eric Klinenberg’s “Going Solo”


From Office Hours, a sociology podcast I regularly listen to:

This week we talk with Eric Klinenberg about his new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Also be sure to check out Klinenberg’s New York Times article, One’s a Crowd.

Although Korea isn’t covered specifically, there’s a lot discussed that is very relevant to it, so I think readers will still find it very interesting. Personally, I really started paying attention after I heard the following 5 minutes in:

…but affluence, and prosperity, that’s not enough. We know that because there’s parts of the world where there’s lots of wealth, but very little living alone. So for instance, in Saudi Arabia, where almost no-one lives alone…and the reason for that is another big driver of living alone is women’s independence: women’s economic independence, and also their capacity to control their own lives, and control their own bodies. When women enter into the paid labor market, and gain sexual independence…personal independence…they are able to delay marriage (and now, people delay marriage longer than ever), they’re also able to get out of marriages that aren’t working. Through divorce, without worrying about sentencing themselves to a lifetime of poverty or having to move back in with their families. So, this is a BIG part of the story I tell…

See here and here for some reviews of the book, and here’s a quick comparative map of national rates from La Presse:

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a base national rate for South Korea, but in January 2009 the Seoul Development Institute did find that 20.4% of Seoul households involved people living alone, and which was expected to rise to 25% by 2030. For more information and discussion, see the Korea Herald here, or in passing in the following posts (the last is at the blog Asadal Thought):

Sex and the University, Part 3: University Students’ Cohabitation Culture

Why are Korean and Japanese Families so Similar? Part 2: Couples Living With Their Parents After Marriage

Why Do Young Koreans Live With Their Parents?

How Many Unmarried Koreans Live Away From Their Parents?

The Race of Single People

2 thoughts on “Increasing Numbers of Single Households in Korea: Lessons from Eric Klinenberg’s “Going Solo”

  1. Thanks for the link, James!

    The rise of people living alone is certainly going to be interesting. When people aren’t living with those who can tell them what to do and what not to do, how will they act, and how will the rest of society view they way they live?


    1. You’re welcome – just wish you’d get back into blogging regularly!

      I’m cautiously optimistic about the rise of singles too, although when I was in my late-20s I was constantly shocked and frustrated by Koreans of the same age who finally had the financial resources to live away from home, but still chose to stay with – yet constantly complain about – their parents instead. So, just like the SDI predicts, I can’t really see a big change in numbers any time soon. Not unless it becomes financially viable for young adults to leave home that is, before they have to accept/resign themselves to living with parents to the extent that they can’t be bothered and/or don’t feel the urge to leave once they do have the resources.

      I should qualify my point about the complaining perhaps, as there’s plenty of Koreans, especially women, who only have temporary and irregular work even in their late-20s and early-30s (the 880,000 won generation and all that), so still don’t have the resources to leave home even then. So, I certainly don’t meant to dismiss their bitterness at their lack of independence, which is genuine and completely understandable. It’s only those 25+ year-olds who can leave home but don’t just because they still want their mother to cook and clean for them that I find intolerable.

      p.s. Sorry I haven’t replied to your comment in the last KGR yet by the way. Will do so tomorrow morning! :)


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