The joy, and pain, of being single

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The joy, and pain, of being single

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People have long enjoyed the single life, even in the era of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Worried that the number of Roman citizens, on whose shoulders the future of Rome depended, would decrease, the emperor took action. There were two laws enacted in 18 B.C. - one that regulated matters related to adultery and extramarital affairs, and another that protected marriage. According to “Stories of the Romans” by Nanami Shiono, the point of the laws was to disadvantage single people.

The laws stipulated that if they were not married, men between the age of 25 and 60 and women between 20 and 50 would suffer disadvantages with regard to property. A widow without children had to remarry within a year after divorce. If not, she was considered to be a single person. Single women over the age of 50 were deprived of the right to inherit any property. If they inherited property that exceeded 50,000 sesterces in value they had to hand it over to someone else. In addition, single women younger than 50 had to pay 1 percent of their income as tax until they got married.

In modern society, the number of single people has long been on the rise. Even if Augustus came back to life, he would find it hard to put a stop to it. The number of single-person households in New York City, a paradise for singles, was 48 percent of the total population as of last year. And European countries such as Norway, Germany, France and Great Britain are called “bachelor states” because about 40 percent of their populations consist of single-person households. In Japan, the ratio tops 42 percent.

Korea is no exception. According to a survey by Statistics Korea on population and housing in 2010, there are 4.03 million single-person households in Korea, or 23.3 percent of the total population. It’s a dramatic increase given that the rate was only 4 percent in 1975, when the first official survey on single-person households was conducted. The structure of families is changing rapidly because people are marrying at a later age (or not marrying at all), divorce rates are increasing, and we are fast becoming an aging society.

It is especially problematic because two-thirds of one-person households belong to the lower class. The number of elderly people who live alone has already surpassed 1 million, and about half of them are unemployed. Although we may not be like family, these people desperately need the warm attention of our society.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Kim Nam-joong
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