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life course

How has being single changed during early adulthood in Europe?

Study comparing 56,979 individuals born between 1930 and 1989 in 30 European countries shows an increase in singlehood after leaving home, primarily among women.

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As the world around us evolves, so does the way we live with ourselves, and each other, change. Cultural and economic shifts such as increasing individualization and a fast-changing labor market may be the reason for the increase in singlehood after leaving one’s home.

Lonneke van den Berg and Ellen Verbakel at Radboud University in the Netherlands show in their study that there has been an increase in singlehood after leaving home primarily among women.

The percentage of women who have lived in singlehood after leaving their home has increased from 41% to 52%, whereas men experienced a 3% increase from 59% to 62%. As the authors suggest, this stronger trend among women could be the result of increased educational attainment and earning capacity over time.

According to Lonneke’s and Ellen’s findings, there is a significant cross-national variation in the percentage of young adults who lived in singlehood after leaving home. The percentage who lived in singlehood after leaving home ranged from 25% in Bulgaria and Russia to 76% in Norway among women and from 42% in Hungary to 85% in Latvia and Sweden among men. Overall, singlehood was more common in Northern Europe (e.g., Norway, Sweden) and in the Anglo-Saxon countries (Great Britain, Ireland). It was least likely in Eastern and Southern European countries and in Belgium.

The percentage of women and men born in the 1970s cohort living in singlehood after leaving the parental home before age 30 by country

The authors also point out the fact that in general women were less likely to live in singlehood after leaving home than men. This was the case in all countries studied.

A cultural shift toward individualization and self-actualization has made being single more appealing and accepted over time. Moreover, singlehood can be a time for personal development, capital accumulation, and role exploration, where individuals can develop and become more resilient. Staying single after leaving home is expected to be an increasingly important phase of self-focus and skill formation in light of the increasing volatility in the labor market and increasing partnership instability. The authors encourage future research to examine to what extent individuals who lived in singlehood after leaving home are indeed more resilient against the effects of employment changes and/or relationship dissolution.

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