Rise in number of single youth creates boom in China's 'loneliness economy'

A woman dines by herself. Photo: IC

China's mounting number of single youth has created a boom in the so-called "loneliness economy".

According to a recent report by the Euromonitor International, a global market investment institution, the number of single Chinese aged 20 and 39 has exceeded 50 million.

First-tier cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province, have become dense settlements for the group, statistics from an online dating website showed.

Some argue that being single is now the "norm" for young adults, while others believe that those who live alone will inevitably feel lonely.

'Doing nearly everything alone'

Due to a lack of friends while working far away from their hometowns, majority of single youth are often on their own.

Wang Xiaofan, a graduate of a Nanjing university in East China's Jiangsu Province, one such person.

After graduation, Wang went to Beijing alone to find a job.

"I was surrounded by my classmates while at school, but now I often eat alone, go to the cinema alone, and do nearly everything alone," she said, adding that "most of my classmates are living the same life with me."

Lily, a Guangzhou drifter in Guangdong, used to go to KTV to sing songs with her classmates on the weekends when she was a student.

However, she dropped the hobby after graduation because she felt it was "embarrassing" to sing alone on the site.


Single youth tend to stay at home after work, and many of them spend most of their free time on the Internet, which can give them some comfort while feeling lonely.

Liu Zhifeng, a 28-year-old IT worker, said he is most relaxed on the weekends when he can spend a whole day at home playing the mobile game King of Glory. He has spent over 8,000 yuan on the game.

Also, he followed many live streamers on the live streaming platform Douyu and has spent 3,000 yuan on virtual gifts for them.

"What can a single man do when he is alone? The answer is games," Liu said. "I now like mobile games most because I am too lazy to sit still in front of the computer, like when I am at work. I prefer lying on my bed or sitting on a couch in a coffee house and playing, and even sometimes in the toilet."

Liu has been single for about two years.

"I wanted to find a girlfriend, but I am too tired to start a relationship," he said. "Rather than spending money and effort on a real relationship, I'd rather invest in gifts for female game anchors online who have the same hobby as me and give me sweet smiles after getting the gifts; it's simple and relaxing."

Michael Tian, a news editor in Beijing, said he spends most of his free time on social media like China's Twitter-like Weibo and short video app Douyin, also known as Tik Tok in the English-speaking world.

"Social media like Douyin can bring some happiness to me while I feel lonely," Tian said. "Seeing interesting short videos on the app, I feel I am not alone."

Asked whether he considers to find a girlfriend, he said he doesn't take the matter into account because he likes free life, despite his parents often urging him to marry.

'Loneliness economy'

The boom in the number of lonely youth has led Chinese and foreign enterprises to invest in "loneliness economy".

Industries like catering, tourism, real estate, and entertainment are gradually changing in the world's biggest market.

In major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, many restaurants started to offer fast food and mini hot spots for single youth. Statistics from the official website of Meituan, China's biggest online and on-demand delivery platform, 65 percent of its users are young people who live alone, and its daily orders have reached up to 10 million in 2017.

According to Ctrip, China's leading online tourism agency, in 2014, 8.3 percent of all its trips were solo trips, and in 2016, the proportion rose to 15 percent.

Also, KTV, usually viewed as a group activity, has now become an individual entertainment since the introduction of mini-KTV booths.

Experts' suggestions

Due to high living costs, single youth are often under huge pressure.

Lacking a sense of belonging in the large cities, they often struggle with their migrant identity, relationship status and lack of property.

Though social media can provide emotional support, it does not offer a real, permanent solution.

Experts suggest that young people should expand their social networks, make new friends and improve their communication skills to break out of their solitary situations.

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