The growing number of single people in China has led to the creation of the “lonely economy,” providing business opportunities for retailers and service providers offering personalized products and services for one person. A total of 10.13 million Chinese couples registered marriage through 2018, a record low since 2008, according to a report by National Business Daily, citing a report released by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. At present, more than 200 million Chinese adults are not married and those living alone total over 77 million.

Many business models catering to single people are springing up in metropolises such as Shanghai. From restaurants and supermarkets, to karaoke and home appliances, both retailers and services providers are launching products and services tailored for solo consumers. 

A Japanese style roast-eel-with-rice restaurant on Yuyuan Road in Shanghai is a typical example. Although the restaurant only sells one kind of roast eel set meal, that has not stopped it from becoming famous online and a hit with solo diners. 

According to Weng Wenying, manager of the restaurant, before it sold roast eel, the restaurant used to be a sushi bar. When the restaurant’s business expanded and the owner opened more branches with more spacious dining areas around Shanghai, the branch on Yuyuan Road gave up selling sushi. “The owner of the restaurant had spent many years in Japan where solo dining is quite common, so she thought of changing the sushi shop into a solo-dining restaurant,” Weng said. 

Weng acknowledged that the business was benefiting from the lonely economy. “As one of the first solo-dining restaurants in Shanghai, it did gain popularity among solo diners. Although its turnover only makes up a small proportion of the total turnover of all the branches in Shanghai, due to its limited daily supply of eel, solo-dining has allowed the small restaurant to survive and even become famous online,” Weng said. 

Singletons spend more

Even though the restaurant is only about 10 square meters in size and can seat only around 10 diners at one time, each customer spends at least 120 yuan ($16.93) on a meal. That’s higher than many Japanese-style non-solo-dining restaurants in downtown Jing’an district where the restaurant is located, and higher than most Chinese restaurants. To some extent, single people without the financial burden of supporting a family are willing and able to spend more. 

According to a Workers’ Daily report, a survey shows 57.69 percent of single people will spend money to dispel loneliness and only 15.68 percent are unwilling to do so. Another survey shows that 75 percent of single people will spend at least 1,000 yuan per month to dispel loneliness. 

According to an economic analysis report issued by Sinolink Securities, most single young people have not reached the stage where they are buying properties or vehicles, so they have little concept of saving. The survey, carried out among 2,000 single people aged between 25 and 35, shows that in first-tier, new first-tier and second-tier cities, about 40 percent of young single adults aged between 25 and 35 belong to the “moonlight clan” (those who live from paycheck to paycheck). The proportion of moonlight clan members is as high as 76 percent in fourth-tier and fifth-tier cities. They spend money on four aspects: convenience, self-entertainment, consolation and their future.

Contrary to expectation, single adults prefer not to spend time with other single friends, but would rather spend their spare time alone. 

Yue Yue, a 36-year-old training school teacher, is still single. Born into an affluent Shanghai family, Yue does not have to work very hard to save money for a property in the metropolis on her own, like some single young people from other cities. As a huge fan of movies, she always goes to the cinema to watch blockbusters, mostly without friends. During holidays, she also travels around the world on her own, and spends around 30,000 yuan on traveling every year. “I don’t desire marriage that much,” Yue said. 

Stella Hua, 35, is a native Shanghainese who works for a state-owned company, and is also single. Similar to Yue, Hua has already given up on the idea of finding her significant other and is prepared to stay single, possibly for the rest of her life. While others spend weekends and holidays with family members, Hua spends her spare time and money on sports, going to the movies, concerts and exhibitions alone. “I live a full life, so I don’t feel bored when I am alone,” said Hua, adding that the spring of her youth has passed, and she no longer has any desire to get married. 

New business opportunities

While single people don’t appear to want to spend time with each other, many of them like to keep pets for company. According to the Sinolink Securities report, more than 70 percent of young people born in the 1980s and 1990s keep pets. Most of these young people are single, and see pets as their family. 

Ding, a 40-year-old Shanghainese single woman, has been raising two pet cats for many years. Usually, she spends her weekends playing with her cats or taking them to the pet grooming shop. Her spending on her pets makes up a large part of her daily expenditure. 

With a growing population that lives alone in China, people’s consumption habits have become more personalized, private and geared toward convenience and pleasing themselves. As a result, products and services catering to single people such as mini home appliances, shared KTV and mini gyms are emerging as new business models aiming to attract single adults. While some =of them may have good prospects, others may not. 

Take karaoke service providers, shared mini KTVs and mobile karaoke apps for example. Qin, who is 40 and single, says he would not use shared KTV to kill time even if he feels lonely. “Singing karaoke should be a group activity, in my mind. Singing alone at the mini KTV in a shopping mall would feel awkward. If I do want to sing alone, I would rather use a karaoke mobile app, which is more convenient and economical,” Qin said. 

As for the boom in the so-called “lonely economy,” Qin thinks that it is due to the fact today’s young people have comfortable lives and don’t have to struggle to make a living. “Since young people have so much spare time to kill, businesses have found opportunities. And if young people are very busy with their careers, they won’t feel that lonely,” Qin said.


Most single young people have not reached the stage where they are buying properties or vehicles, so they have little concept of saving. Photo: VCG