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Consumer Research


The rise of ‘Home Alones’

The rise of ‘Home Alones’

Latest from OMD Sense

“I live alone, and it's good. I stick on a video, watch telly. I am a bit lonely sometimes, but I laugh at my own jokes and dance around by myself when I'm making something to eat.” - Robbie Williams, singer      
Many people will live alone for at least some part of their lives. Perhaps you do now. It can mean different things dependent on the life-stage and attitude of the person: independence; bereavement; first step on the property ladder; divorce.

Living alone can be fun, it can be lonely. As Mr Williams and others demonstrate, it’s thought about in many different ways.
“You can tell the person who lives alone in the supermarket checkout line. They're the ones with a six pack of beer, a roll of toilet paper, and 27 TV dinners.” - Hugh Holub, actor        

“We're born alone; we live alone; we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.” - Orson Welles, writer, director, actor, producer     
The causes behind the moves towards single-occupancy households are many, but are usually cultural or sociological.
–        Increased rates of divorce
–        People marrying later
–        Increased independence, financial and otherwise, of women
–        Increased prosperity
–        Conversion of large properties into flats – both a cause and an effect.
–        Increased life-expectancy.
Some thinkers believe that many of the benefits of living with someone else, particularly companionship, are being provided elsewhere. Think about eating out with friends, shared interest groups and online identities. Others argue, somewhat contentiously, that the need for this structure is being replaced by a need for independence and privacy.
Whatever the reasons, it seems that increasing numbers of us can cope with living by ourselves, either by fulfilling certain needs elsewhere or by simply denying ourselves of them. We call this trend ‘Home Alones’.
We define it as living in a self-contained dwelling (usually with its own bathroom and kitchen facilities), housing one person only, on a permanent basis.
In the UK, increasing numbers of us are choosing to live alone. Increasing numbers are having less choice in the matter: Divorce rates may be the lowest for a generation, but so are remarrying rates – there are still well over a million divorcees living alone.
As people live for longer, and live alone, following bereavement or marriage breakdown, the number of single households increases further. However, it’s among the younger age groups that the proportion of home alones is increasing most rapidly.
Some stats for you:
-  7 million single person households in the UK.
•         This represents 28.3% of all households.
•         In Sweden and Germany it’s 46% and 37% respectively.
–        In 1961, it was under 2.5 million – less than 15%
–        Expected to rise to 9 million by 2021

The increasing number of single-person households places considerable strain on the environment, both in a local and global sense.
Energy efficiency, per head of population, is considerably lower in a society with more single-person households: Every dwelling requires its own fridge, heating, kettle and other consumer electronics.

These facilities consume energy, and they require energy for manufacture, distribution and disposal. Not only that, but each single-person dwelling requires more space than if the person was to co-habit. This increases the strain on green belts and so on. (Cast your mind back to earlier Sense newsletters about climate change, paradoxical and conscientious consumers.)
The housing industry and property developers have responded to the demand for smaller homes. Yet, for the last ten years, one-bedroom dwellings have only accounted for around 10% of completed new-builds.

Two-beds are now the most popular, accounting for 40% of completed new builds, compared to 25% in 2001.

They’ve outstripped both three- and four-beds. But what of the singletons who can’t afford two-bed properties? Perhaps the number of Home Alones will reach saturation.
Implications and issues

Media consumption is massively affected by the rise in Home Alones: Shared consumption is down, particularly of TV. However there could be more ‘appointment to view’, and hence an increase in engagement.
Finance brands need to adapt to the world of Home Alones, particularly with increased housing costs. We may see an increase in longer-term mortgages – 30, 35 years.

What about those who are in relationships – may they be less willing to commit to traditional joint bank accounts? There may be a market for quasi-joint accounts, offering each half of the couple some of the benefits, but more security.
We’ve already seen some of the effects on grocery shopping. Supermarkets are usually quick to respond to trends and demands. Shopping for one has led to more ready meals, smaller portions, Metros and Expresses. How will other retailers adapt?
The desire for convenience and companionship is one result of people living alone and one reason for the increased number of people eating out. The industry is worth £42bn a year, excluding drink. This has risen by an inflation busting average of 7% p.a. for the last 25 years!
The list goes on; the increase in Home Alones has the potential to affect numerous product categories and, as ever, those who adapt quickest and cleverest, will be the ones to succeed.

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