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Growing trend of solo living creating opportunities for businesses

TORONTO — One of the fastest-growing demographics in Canada and around the world has long been ignored by mainstream businesses and politicians, but that may be about to change.  

“Society is geared towards families,” says Jean-Pierre Bissonnette, a 52-year-old single medical physicist at the Princess Margaret Hospital who counts himself as part of a growing cohort of people who choose to live the single life.

For the first time in Canada, the number of one-person households was the largest living arrangement, according to the 2016 census. Nearly four million Canadians lived alone in 2016, up from 1.7 million in 1981. They accounted for 28.2 per cent of the 14.1 million households, more than couples with or without children, single-parent families and multiple family households.

The increase is driven by people marrying later, divorcing more, surviving spouses and staying single longer.

Some businesses have tried to meet the changing needs by enhancing grocery options, removing travel impediments or building more housing for one.

Canada’s supermarket chains have been increasing floor space for ready-made food that appeals to busy and wealthier singles, a move that both serves a market and substantially increases margins, says Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

“I think it’s only going to increase just because our demographics are supporting grocers who want to offer more single-serving solutions.”

An increasing number of travel companies are creating deals for solo travellers because demand has exploded, especially among women, says Tracey Nesbitt, editor of Solo Traveler magazine.

Some are waiving singles supplement charges while others are allowing travellers to pair up in rooms and offering communal dining tables, happy hour receptions and pre-voyage electronic meetups. Some cruise ships are also adding more single rooms.

Airlines including Air Canada, Transat and Sunwing have introduced solo packages that offer all-inclusive packages to Mexico and the Caribbean with no singles supplement.

Transat’s solo collection, for example, has almost doubled its reach since launching in 2015 to include 39 resorts at 19 sun destinations in 10 countries that welcome about 8,000 single travellers a year.

Still, catering to solo travellers is a fairly recent phenomenon, as more millennial and baby boomers are seeking to voyage alone, said Nesbitt.

“It’s just become such a big market.”

A Statistics Canada report released Wednesday says more men, divorced or separated people live alone today than in the past, while the proportion of widowed men and women has fallen.

While many people often end up living alone because they’ve put off having families as they establish their careers, 72 per cent once had a partner and 55 per cent had at least one child, said the Living Alone in Canada report.

The growth in solo living has coincided with the rise in condominium construction. Twenty-eight per cent of people living alone resided in these types of accommodation, either owned or rented, said Statistics Canada, up from seven per cent in 1981.

Despite the current efforts, more can be done by businesses to take advantage of trends, said Bella DePaulo, a singles expert and the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

“Restaurants need to up their game when it comes to welcoming the solo diner.”

People often choose to live alone when they can afford to. Better pay has allowed more women to live their lives “without being tethered to a husband for economic life support,” DePaulo said.

Solo living is a huge trend with implications for how we live, socialize, use technology, meet people, shop and get things done, DePaulo said.

“Ultimately, it should also have big political ramifications, though political candidates and leaders are sometimes the last to give up on their fawning over married couples and families,” she wrote in an email.


Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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