Families now come in ones and twos

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Families now come in ones and twos

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More Koreans are living alone than ever, as the number of one- or two-person households steadily climbed over the past decade and a half to reach nearly half of all Korea’s households, the state’s statistical agency announced yesterday.

The findings represented a drastic change in the shape of the Korean home during the last 15 years as more people stayed single or got divorced, a rising number of women became heads of households and the number of people living in homes they own fell for the first time in more than a decade.

For many Koreans, the word “household” might still mean a father, a mother and 2.5 kids - but such a notion is now quaint.

According to a comprehensive analysis of Korean households based on 2010 census findings released by Statistics Korea yesterday, the percentage of one- or two-person households out of the nation’s total vaulted from 29.6 percent in 1995 to 48.2 percent in 2010.

Three- to four-person households, which accounted for 52 percent of the total in 1995, fell to 43.8 percent in 2010.

As a result, the number of family members in an average Korean household dropped from 3.4 people in 1995 to 2.69 people in 2010.

A rising number of young people staying single plus an increase in divorces were behind the shift. Out of all heads of households in 2010, one out of three didn’t have a spouse - either because they were single (14.4 percent), divorced (7.3 percent), or widowed or widowered (11.7 percent).

The sharpest change is in the number of divorcees. In 15 years, the percentage of divorced heads of households more than doubled from 2.1 percent in 1995.

“’Divorced’ has become the main marital status of Koreans between 45 and 59 years of age,” Statistics Korea said in a release.

Smaller families have led to a greater popularity in smaller houses. According to real estate portal Web site Dr. Apartment, the price of large apartments in the metropolitan area fell 11 times more than the price of small apartments between the start of the global financial crisis in September 2008 and earlier this month.

“Prices could drop further due to the falling demand [for large apartments],” said Cho Eun-sang, the head of research at the real estate portal.

Meanwhile, leading retailer Lotte Department Store recently turned heads by adding furniture suitable for singles or couples in its annual furniture sales fair for the first time ever last month. “Sales of one-person furniture carried a 12.5 percent on-year growth in our furniture sales last year,” a Lotte Department Store official said.

Yesterday’s data showed that more Koreans are not only living alone, but in homes they don’t own. The percentage of households that lived in homes they owned reached 54.2 percent in 2010, falling slightly from 55.6 percent in 2005 after rising steadily for 10 years.

In particular, “the percentage of people between 35 and 60 years of age living in homes they own dropped significantly,” said a Statistics Korea official. “Due to the real estate slump, younger people often choose to rent,” said Kim Jeong-geun, a research fellow at Samsung Economic Research Institute. “There might also be considerable cases of retired people in their 50s selling their homes to start their own business.”


By Lee Jung-yoon [joyce@joongang.co.kr]

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