The lonely aftermath of China's one-child policy

China had 66 million registered one-person homes in 2014, or 15 percent of all households, compared with 6 percent in 1990, according to government data. The actual number may be as many as 83 million — more than the population of Germany — and could rise to 132 million by 2050, according to Jean Yeung, director of the center for family and population research at the National University of Singapore.

“The prevalence will only increase in the next few decades due to continued aging, migration, and divorce,” Yeung said. “Some choose to live alone because they have more economic resources and prefer more time and space for themselves, others have no choice.”

Those forces are eating away at an economic structure based on family units that goes back centuries, part of the twin Confucian values of loyalty to the emperor and filial obedience known as Zhongxiao that Chairman Mao Zedong tried to destroy during the Cultural Revolution. Where Mao largely failed, economic growth is succeeding, boosting demand for power and consumer goods and putting an increasing strain on services for the elderly.

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