When I lived in Seoul, one thing I noted is that Koreans often hang out in groups. Group mentality is very strong among Koreans. This may be an extension of the family concept of Confucianism which has greatly influenced the Korean society. So, you can always see Koreans eat, drink and watch movies with friends, colleagues and/or lovers. If you are being seen eating, drinking or watching movie alone, others may think you have no friends and may even consider you strange. Moreover, some restaurants also have menus that can only be ordered for two persons or more.
However, this trend is gradually changing as there are more and more single-person households in South Korea. According to a 2016 survey by Statistics Korea, the number of single-person households has increased by 400% to over 5.2 million in 2015 (vs. slightly over 1 million in 1990), and it is now the most prevalent form of households, represents 27.2% of the population (vs. 26.1% for 2-person households, 21.5% for 3-person households, and 18.8% for 4-person households). This is mainly due to the low birth rates, longer lifespans, and people getting married later than before or not getting married at all. The age group of single-person households is people in 30’s, followed by those in 20’s and then those over 70’s.
Nowadays, the Koreans seem to be more comfortable with being alone, and singleton has also become increasingly acceptable. Moreover, while Koreans may still spend their time in groups, they also want to spend more time on their own to do things they like. You may have noticed that terms such as 혼밥 (“honbap” – eating alone), 혼술 (“honsul” – drinking alone) and 혼영 (“honyeong” – watching movie alone) have appeared in the social media as well. The prefix 혼 (“hon”) is derived from the word 혼자 (“honja” – by oneself).
In fact, singleton is seen as a valuable business opportunity with the term “solo economy” or “il-conomy” (“il” in Korean means “one”) appearing in South Korea. It is noted that the businesses of convenience stores selling meals and daily necessities in small packs, small-sized furniture (like “mini” wardrobes and folding tables) and small home appliances (like small rice cooker cooking 1-3 servings) have been growing. So, there are a number of products and services tailoring to the needs of the singleton emerging in the market. For example, there are financial products for customers who live on their own providing services like a rewards credit card offering points for convenience store purchases and a loan for those renting officetels or studio apartments. There is also a hotel offering vacation spa package for customers who spend time alone in the hotel. There is also an increasing number of restaurants offering single-serving menus and seating for single customers. Ichimen, a Japanese-style noodle restaurant in Sinchon, is well-known for its wooden partitions which divide a bar-like table into cubicles for single customers.
So, with the growing importance of the solo economy, it’s no longer a bad thing to being single in South Korea!
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Kim Jung-soo, “Korean companies get ready for rise of single-person households“, Arirang News, 2017-03-09
Choi Sung-jin, “More single households boost solo consumers“, The Korea Times, 2016-10-01