Where in the world do people live alone? In many countries, solo households – homes occupied by one person living alone, are increasingly commonplace. Notably, in a few countries, nearly every other household consists of a person living alone.
- There are nations where just under half of all households have a person living alone.
- The nation where people are least likely to live alone is Afghanistan.
- In Norway, if you were to randomly knock on doors, nearly every second time, you will be greeted by someone living alone.
In many nations, living alone is so commonplace it seems unremarkable. Historically, though, it is quite remarkable how recent a phenomenon it is. Less than a century ago, very few people lived alone anywhere in the world (typically, under 10 per cent of all households, and often way less than that).
There are still some places where living alone is rare, but now there are nations where just under half of all households are one-person households. The growing significance of solo living is also evident in how it has eclipsed other kinds of living arrangements. In the U.S., for example, there are more households consisting of one person living alone than of married parents and their children; and the US is nowhere near the top of the pack in terms of the popularity of solo living.
What countries have the highest proportions of people living alone?
Global data on living alone are available at the website Our World in Data and in the section on living alone. From the chart “Percentage of one-person households, 1960 to 2018,” I clicked the ‘table’ tab to find the specific percentages for each nation for the most recent data available (2018 or sometimes earlier).
The nations with the highest percentage of one-person households, where over 40% of households are solo living with one person living alone, are:
- 45.8% Norway
- 44.1% Denmark
- 43.0% Finland
- 42.5% Sweden
- 41.7% Germany
- 40.3% Estonia
That means that if you are in Norway today and were to knock on doors randomly, almost every other time, you will be greeted by a person who is living alone. In all of these countries, solo households and living alone are commonplace.
They are all Nordic nations, except for Estonia (a Baltic nation) and Germany. Iceland, another Nordic country, also has a high percentage of one-person solo households: 31.0%.
Other nations where more than 30% of households are one-person solo households (starting with the highest percentages) are the Netherlands, Switzerland, Lithuania, Austria, France, Latvia, Belgium, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, and Sint Maarten (Dutch part).
The countries with the lowest number of solo households
The country where people are least likely to live alone is Afghanistan, where just 0.2% of all households are one-person households. In Pakistan, just 1.1% of households are one-person households, and in Iraq, just 1.2% (but the most recent data is not very recent).
Other countries where fewer than 5% of all households are one-person households (starting with the smallest percentages) are Bangladesh, Yemen, Tajikistan, Niger, Mali, Cambodia, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, South Sudan, Jordan, Guinea, Nicaragua, Comoros, and the Philippines.
Solo living and solo households in other countries
In the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia, between about one in four and one in three households are solo, one-person households. Rates are similar in South Africa and South Korea. (Again, the data are from 2018 or sometimes earlier.)
- 29.9% UK
- 28.0% US
- 27.6% Canada
- 26.8% Africa
- 25.0% Australia
- 23.9% South Korea
Living alone is far less common in other countries, such as:
- 10.0% Mexico
- 8.6% China
- 7.7% India
The psychology and economics of living alone: What matters?
I’ve talked before about some of the psychological, cultural, and economic factors that help us understand why the rates of living alone are so varied in different nations. The determining factors include if it is financially possible to live alone – in wealthier nations, more people can afford to do so, and also if living alone is desirable. There are countries where family ties are more highly valued and where it is more common for people to live with family, even if they can afford to live alone.
One trend is evident for most nations: the percentage of people living alone in solo households is growing. Many things may need to change to accommodate this rising demographic, from practical matters to more psychological factors, such as our understanding of the vulnerabilities and strengths of people living alone in solo households, some of which are discussed here.