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Capitalism and the Spirit of Singlehood

How markets moderate relationship patterns.

Photo by Monstera from Pexels
Capitalism and the Spirit of Singlehood
Source: Photo by Monstera from Pexels

The singledom trend is being fueled by social changes that pertain to relationship formation around the world. At large, these changes are causing many individuals to shift away from long-term, steady arrangements and move towards temporary, noncommittal arrangements both professionally and romantically [1].

While this social shift is a manifestation of individualism [2] it is also indicative of specific forces behind the choices that individuals make. One of these forces is the move toward capitalism as countries have become increasingly developed and industrialized.

Historically, the emergence of capitalism and today's markets have had marked effects on marriage patterns and family structures, as moderated by gender roles, the role of religions, individualist tendencies, and other societal factors.

For example, women got more independent due to having jobs in the free market, with no need to adhere to social expectations about marriage for living. Another example is that religious communities got eroded due to exposure to cultures and lifestyles that the market offers and thus the social stronghold on young adults weakens. This also affected and weakened the push toward wedlock. Indeed, some argue that these changes were evident in early modern Britain, already in the 16th and 17th centuries CE, and continue to have an impact on modern society as the capitalist model influences social decisions [3].

In some instances, the nature of competitive capitalism in the modern world forces people to have to choose between professional and career advancement or the establishment of a family. In other instances, it is the market mindset that forces people to keep swiping right and left without choosing or committing to one spouse. In yet other cases, many people simply choose to go solo and are happy with their decision because it gives them the freedom of choice and the lifestyle they want. In these latter cases, it is the spirit of capitalism—that of freedom—that guides people in relationship choices.

Moreover, to illustrate how markets may be able to directly or indirectly moderate relationship patterns in other ways, it is worth considering the fact that singles consume and require significantly more resources on average than family units. More specifically, in addition to the boost made to the real estate markets due to the increased demand for apartments that would allow people to live alone, research in the U.S. indicates that singles use 38 percent more products, 42 percent more packaging, 55 percent more electricity, and 61 percent more gas per capita than individuals living in a four-person family unit [4].

To that end, divorce could also be seen as a potential growth market [5], since a couple splitting up would result in a new single who would out of necessity seek new living arrangements and being to consume products at a higher rate.

Therefore, from a purely consumerist and economic standpoint, markets love singles and may thus encourage this lifestyle directly or indirectly. The fact that singles consume and require more than others makes the wheels of fortune move.

And the opposite is also true. Singles' new habits and preferences would result in the market adapting to cater to the needs of a single market, hence leading to an increase in the number of singles that find the solo lifestyle more and more convenient. Responses to these phenomena are evident in marketing and advertising directed at single men and women.

While no substantive longitudinal studies monitoring the emergence of singles’ media and advertising are available to date, scholars are beginning to recognize the potential clout of this developing market. Despite persistent discrimination against singles [5], the media is adapting to appeal to a potential single audience [6], and advertising—at least for some products such as housing, dating websites, and travel—has been increasingly targeting singles over the last few decades [7, 8].

As such, it can be expected that singles' consumer culture will be developed [9, 10], wherein the advertising market provides a means, legitimacy, and visibility to being single that was previously not evident.

The sum of these market forces makes singlehood more appealing and present. People also choose this lifestyle deliberately and find it more accepted and comfortable than ever before.


1. Bauman, Z., Liquid love: On the frailty of human bonds. 2013: John Wiley & Sons.

2. Kaufmann, J.-C., L'invention de soi, une théorie de l'identité. 2005: ERES.

3. Grassby, R., Kinship and capitalism. Marriage, family, and business in the Englishspeaking world, 1580, 2000. 1740.

4. Liu, J., et al., Coupled human and natural systems. AMBIO: a journal of the human environment, 2007. 36(8): p. 639-649.

5. DePaulo, B., Singled out: How singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, and still live happily ever after. 2007, New York: Macmillan.

6. Katz, H., The media handbook: A complete guide to advertising media selection, planning, research, and buying. 2014: Routledge.

7. Pritchard, A. and N.J. Morgan, Sex still sells to generation X: Promotional practice and the youth package holiday market. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 1996. 3(1): p. 68-80.

8. Roscoe, P. and S. Chillas, The state of affairs: critical performativity and the online dating industry. Organization, 2014. 21(6): p. 797-820.

9. Ewen, S., Captains of consciousness: Advertising and the social roots of the consumer culture. 2008: Basic Books.

10. Alden, D.L., J.-B.E. Steenkamp, and R. Batra, Brand positioning through advertising in Asia, North America, and Europe: The role of global consumer culture. The Journal of Marketing, 1999: p. 75-87

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