Family life may hold a special place in Singapore but increasing numbers of people are living alone, either by choice or circumstance.
There has been a stark rise over the past two decades or so in what are called one-person resident households. These are households headed by a citizen or permanent resident.
In 2000, there were 75,400 such households, comprising 8.2 per cent of all resident households. That figure rose to 116,400, or 10.8 per cent, in 2007. This increased further to 167,900 last year, or 13 per cent of all resident households, according to Department of Statistics data released last Thursday.
Sociologist Angelique Chan said: "Given the growing affluence and preference for privacy and space, more people (of all ages) are choosing to live alone."
One reason behind the trend is the growing number of singles, such as Miss Law Lipeng, a 41-year-old architect.
Miss Law moved out of her parents' flat into her own apartment last year for more personal space.
She said: "It's quite hard to have privacy when you live with your parents, like even if you want to play music loudly, you will disturb others. Having my own personal space means that I don't have to explain my lifestyle choices to anyone."
An increasing number of divorces has also led to more people living alone, say sociologists and social workers. Singapore is also ageing rapidly, and more seniors - who may or may not have children - have chosen to live out their twilight years alone after their spouse dies.
Some elderly folk may not have a choice. They could have strained ties with their children, for example, said sociologists and social workers interviewed by The Straits Times.
Mrs Jenny Bong, director of Special Projects at the Methodist Welfare Services, said: "Some seniors prefer to be independent as they can do their own thing. Others may fear being dependent on others or prefer not to be obligated to others."
Widower K.P. Sivam, 82, has been living alone in a flat after his wife died about a decade ago. He has three grown-up children, two of whom are living abroad.
Dr Sivam, who works part time as a consultant for the Management Development Institute of Singapore, said: "I don't feel lonely living alone and I value my space and privacy."
He keeps busy by working, exercising in the gym and meeting friends regularly.
But widow Cathy Niew, 67, finds it "very lonely" living on her own.
Madam Niew, who has only the television and newspapers to keep her company, suffers from a host of health problems, including spinal degeneration and osteoporosis.
She needs a walking stick to get around.
"I don't want to trouble my daughter by living with her as she has her own family," she said of her only child, who is married with children of her own. "If you are healthy, it's OK to live by yourself. When you are sick, it's a lot harder."
To pass the time every day, she goes to the senior activity centre run by the Methodist Welfare Services, which is just below her studio apartment, to do exercises and chit-chat with others.
The growing number of elderly people living alone presents a challenge for the health and social service sector. Dr Chan said the challenge is to provide sufficient medical and other help near their homes to cater to them as they may not have loved ones to care for them or even check on them.
Sociologists and social workers told The Straits Times that seniors who live alone may feel lonely, although they acknowledged that those living with family members may feel the same way too.
The key is to ensure that seniors - regardless of living arrangements - remain engaged and not isolated from others.
Dr Jamie Phang, head of Methodist Welfare Services Home Care, said: "If there are no concerted efforts by communities to engage them, singles may become socially isolated and this not only translates into physical ailments, it also predisposes them to mental health problems like depression and anxiety."
Professor Jean Yeung, director of the Centre for Family and Population Research, expects the number of solo dwellers to rise as more people remain single, among other factors.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.