The challenges of a 1-person household
There used to be a time when people considered you an old bachelor or a spinster if you remained unmarried after the age of 30. The older singles would be reluctant to visit families for the holidays because they would have to deal with unpleasant concerned voices. And this time was not so long ago.
But nowadays, we no longer use words like “old bachelor” and “old maiden.” In fact, we can find many single men and women around us. Some people have yet to meet the right partner, and others remain single because they cannot afford to get married. But there are also people who choose not to get married and deliberately remain single. They consider marriage a choice, not a requirement in life. And as the extended family system has collapsed, an increasing number of seniors live alone. When children grow up and leave home, the older couple remains in the empty nest, and when one spouse passes away, the remaining one has to live by him or herself.
In rural areas, more seniors live alone. In Goheung County, South Jeolla, one in four households is a “single-senior family.” Divorce and separation also make some people single again. Some “wild goose” fathers send their families abroad and live alone, supporting them financially but living separately. Structurally, the one-person household is on the rise.
This trend is supported by statistics. According to Statistics Korea’s 2012 survey, there are over 4.3 million single households in the country, about 25.3 percent of total households. The number of single households has surpassed two-person households, which make up 25.2 percent, by a small margin. Single-person households are expected to increase even more, and Statistics Korea expects it to grow to up to 34.4 percent of total households.
While the family composition rapidly changes, the system and customs are still backward. The social systems and policies on welfare, taxation and housing are still centered on the multiperson household. If you want to benefit from income tax deductions, you need to have a spouse or supporting family members to claim as dependents. The one-person households are excluded from the public housing assignments, including the permanent housing lease. The layouts or forms of the project housing generally accommodate multiperson households. Even eating is still a problem. It is still uncomfortable and awkward to walk into a restaurant by yourself and have a meal alone.
The extended family has evolved into nuclear families, and the nuclear families are rapidly shifting to one-person households. However, the social system has been slow to catch up with the changes. The increase of one-person household should be followed with adjustment and changes in the system, custom and culture.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok