Living the single life of the Northern Europeans

  • 2002-02-07
  • Eugene Lisicins
Some interesting things are happening in the Baltic states that are resembling new lifestyles in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.

The recent shift in Western Europe from social democracy to more individualistic, American-style capitalism has produced a completely free market economy - and a similar free market in the choice of lifestyles and "life companions."

More and more people in Europe, in Northern Europe in particular, are preferring to live alone.

There is absolutely nothing antisocial in this trend. People just choose to live alone, which is giving time and space for self-reflection, as well as for additional privacy.

Care for oneself is a new fact of life in Europe in this period of economic and social freedom.

This new phenomenon is unique in that it affects all social groups and professions; all population strata are involved. The situation is assessed by demographers and real estate developers, transport and entertainment experts, and practical psychologists, to name a few.

Sociologists have predicted this shift. They confirmed in the 1980s that this trend, which has been taking shape throughout the last quarter of a century, actually represented a shift away from family life for most teenagers to the "solo lifestyle."

A new definition appeared: the "single family," or a sort of protracted individualism.

Needless to say, the private life of the Northern Europeans has been radically transformed by the intangible forces of the communication revolution, by business mobility - single European citizenship in the European Union - and by the mass entry of women into the workforce.

But the results have been less predictable.

Divorces are soaring, marriages come very late in life, if at all. The British marriage rate is the lowest in 160 years of records, with three times as many divorces as 40 years ago. Most people prefer to live alone.

The number of French people living alone doubled between 1968 and 1990, and most of Swedes (about 40 percent), Dutch, Danes and Germans have chosen to live on their own. In Germany there are 15 million single families out of a population of 80 million.

The average age for marriage for women has risen to 27.5 years in Britain, and to 30 in France. Governments in Scandinavia support young people who want to live away from home - it's getting addictive, particularly for young women.

Another fact is that "the solitude syndrome" is an urban phenomenon. Rural people still stick to families. But experts predict a warning trend, that single-person households will outnumber families and couples in Europe within the decade.

Members of an affluent Western society are rich enough to afford to live alone and be independent. They regard living alone as a modern choice of freedom - which is a reflection of the optimal way out of often dreary, age-old matrimonial "ties."

More professionals live alone. One in five career women lives alone in Scandinavia, compared with one in 10 working women in France.

On the other hand, "singles" are often forced to live alone, as they work harder and longer, and if there is free time it's devoted to further education, training or fitness, none of which leave much room for stable relationships.

Besides, the new "individualism" means that people expect more of each other, and this means relationships don't last long - to say nothing about marriages - if they start at all.

The "ideal" is to live a "self-perceived life," without having to make compromises.

The single-living habit is not always really single, of course. It's rather "living alone together." Committed couples opt for separate residences, and the choice is clear - to live apart in peace rather than together in stress, bickering over how to squeeze the toothpaste.

People in the Baltic states tend to believe that married couples lead healthier lifestyles, smoke less, drink less and seem much happier. But that won't last long.