Relationships… In this Economy?! Exploring the Purchasing Power of Single People
Valentine’s Day is possibly one of the holidays that I dread the most. It’s the day that most restaurants are booked, gift shops are sold out, and flower shops are swamped with orders. Cyberspace is also filled with couple pictures, soft launches, and sweet messages posted on Instagram stories. In short, Valentine’s Day, for couples, is a day to “flex,” as if to say “Hey, world! I’m in a loving relationship and you have to know how happy I am!” It’s a judgment-free holiday that, much like Christmas, allows people to celebrate the ever-fearsome prospect of vulnerability.
But the day after Valentine’s is what I look forward to the most. February 15, also known as Single Awareness Day or S.A.D, is an unofficial holiday celebrating the liberating feeling of singlehood. Like most single people, I go out and treat myself to a fancy dinner or to a self-care day.
And despite being a holiday that celebrates singlehood, S.A.D is actually a communal experience. Elsewhere, there are single people doing the same thing. In fact, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that there are 34.8 million single Filipinos — that’s more than a hundred percent increase from the 31.3 million back in 2010.
Singlehood is also rapidly shaping the global population. According to the 2020 Euromonitor International report, the Asia-Pacific region posted the highest number of single people and it’s expected to continuously grow. By 2040, one-tenth of households globally are expected to be both single and Asian.
The “I” in Single
Deconstructing single people and singlehood can be explored through how they are shaped by their experiences and motivations and how they are influenced by societal trends & shifts. Take the case of JM, a 37-year old single from Bataan, who’s been single for three years now after being cheated on. “People get tired of investing emotionally and end up getting hurt eventually. It becomes a vicious cycle, like the worst song on repeat,” he said.
Moving on and improving one’s self also goes hand in hand. Single people prefer to invest time and energy in making sure they’re fully ready to enter a relationship. When asked about the perks of being single, 27-year old Ikee from Calamba says: “I’m staving off romantic relationships because they’re just too mentally and emotionally taxing… At least it’s just myself that I have to fix.” This active decision to allocate time and energy on personal pursuits instead of investing it in relationships actually reflects the top two reasons reported by Nielsen China on why most people choose to live a single life.
How a single person values social interactions also influences their need for romantic relationships. It takes an extra amount of energy to be receptive and open when meeting other people, especially during dates regardless if it's virtual or in-person.
“[I have] no need to deal with other people’s quirks,” says Joe, 43, from Manila. For him, singlehood works because he doesn’t have to figure out other people anymore.
Choosing not to be in a relationship also means that there’s no pressing need to explain themselves to their partners. This is the perk that Jken, 28, resonates with the most. He said that “[I have] more time for myself, I get to do things without owing an explanation to anybody.”
Having a relationship in this economy doesn’t only require one to invest time and emotional battery for someone, but it also requires money– going on relationships means spending money on gifts, dates, and celebrations. The Philippine Statistics Authority reported an all-time high in the PH inflation rate reaching 4.7% last August 2021. This means that the prices of the commodities that we need to survive have gone up and weakened our purchasing power. Add to that the rapid commercialization of services and urbanization of provinces eventually monopolize our access to housing, education, healthcare, and social support.
Altogether these experiences and trends ultimately shaped how single people spend their money. For most single people, we allocate more to our own pleasures. Our own happiness, entirely independent from anyone, serves as a gauge before we purchase an item or service. We use this as our consolation after a long day’s work and as a reward for accomplishing something we’ve been putting off.
But where and when do we exactly express this sentiment? According to the same report released by Nielsen China, single people splurge on four major categories: self-care, self-improvement, convenience, and socialization or companionship.
The Price of Being Single
Self-care. You’ve seen this online and by now you’re either into it or jaded by it. It’s practically a slang word at this point. The buzzword dates back to the 20th century but it was only during the late 60s-70s when it was used as a substitute for what we know it now: prioritizing one’s mental and physical health. In 2019, the self-care industry has boomed with a net worth of $ 9.9 billion and is only expected to grow exponentially.
When asked where he splurges the most, Jken said that “In my case, [it’s] food and skincare.” Equipped with the mindset of being better, most people see self-care investments as a need and a want. For single people, spending time and money on these kinds of products and services will help them feel fulfilled & complete, and see that their efforts are not put to waste — akin to the feeling of being in a relationship.
This mindset is what the self-care industry sells. Social media and influencers push the narrative that the need for self-care is essential and they have the answers to help you achieve that. Because of this, we are conditioned to continuously pursue self-care journeys until we like the person we see in front of the mirror. For single people, allotting time and money for self-care is a serious endeavor.
Most of the products and services can also be availed online, saving us from commuting and browsing aisles and aisles of skincare products. Try searching the words “skin” or “cosmetics” on Instagram or on any e-commerce platform and it’ll show you hundreds of products of the same formula just in different packaging. Self-care services too can be availed online. From online therapy sessions to spin classes, the industry has adapted to the changing trends and minimized the need to visit on-site clinics or gyms.
Add to Cart, Add to Heart
It’s almost impossible not to find what you need online. Do you need to surprise your crush with the new Pokemon game? Order it online. Do you need a dress to impress your virtual date? Order it online. Do you want to surprise your 3-week Tinder match with a box of donuts? Order it online.
The e-commerce industry really delivered convenience when they said “the world is at your fingertips.” This is the main reason why the Philippines has a booming e-commerce industry. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) reported an increase in the number of online sellers from 1,700 in March 2020 to 93,318 in January 2021. By 2025, it is forecasted that the local industry will be valued at PHP 495.0 billion ($10.3billion).
Globally, the e-commerce industry also birthed the 11.11 (November 11) sale phenomenon which is considered to be the world’s largest annual online shopping event. In 2020, the event was reported making $115 billion in transactions. The event was first organized in the 1990s by university students to celebrate singlehood. Being a “Double 11”, the holiday promoted self-indulgence and self-care which was eventually used by businesses and companies like Alibaba to brand their 24-hour sales promotions.
Interestingly, the industry doesn’t only sell convenience but also control — customers can filter options based on their preferences and receive it exactly how they wanted it to be. For single people, being able to conveniently buy things that give them instant gratification is where they spend the most. Ikee from Calamba says that he “loves spending money on things that give me instant gratification but long-term regret apparently. Like online shopping or gacha games.”
The e-commerce industry also sprawled its influence in sex and pleasure, particularly during this time of isolation. This paved the way for sex toy businesses to grow. In fact, by 2025, it’s forecasted to grow its market value to $17.58 billion with 37% coming from Asia and the Pacific region. The commodification of companionship online also known as the cam-girl industry, an experience popular even before the pandemic, also grew exponentially. Last year, Onlyfans reported an annual net sale of $400 million thanks to its 50 million subscribers and 700,000 content creators.
Hang Out? G.
While couples usually bring profit for restaurants, bars, and coffee shops on Valentine’s Day, it’s the single people who bring the majority of the revenue. That’s where single people usually hang out with friends or go out on dates. In fact, some establishments have already come up with promos targeted to single people like “Share A Seat. Earn A Jowa.” to Anti-Valentine’s Day Parties. Numerous coffee shops also capitalize on their customers’ experience — offering teddy bears as companions or getting scheduled playtime with the in-house dogs and cats.
Singles nights are also common with bars and clubs as they usually offer discounted entrance drinks for single people to drive traffic and income. In fact, Nielsen China’s research reported that single people are night owls and they usually prefer to do recreational activities from 11:00 p.m. to late at night. This makes sense, as nightlife strips like Bonifacio Global City, Katipunan, and Poblacion are also very popular with single people who want to score a date, a no-strings-attached arrangement, or just to meet new people and let loose.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the way we socialize has also changed. Most people turned to social media and dating apps to connect with other people. Tinder reported that people like to swipe in the evening until the wee hours of the morning, with its peak hour at 9 PM until 3 AM. Tinder also logged revenue of more than $60 million from its app downloads and Tinder Passport (its premium service) subscriptions as of January 2021. Bumble has also reported that their users are intentionally dating with the intent of getting into serious relationships.
Food establishments have also adapted to the changes brought about by the pandemic. According to Grab’s 2021 Food Trends Report, the number of monthly active food & beverage establishments increased by 60% in 2020. They also reported that the Philippines alone has spent $1.1 billion on food delivery transactions.
Are You Still Watching?
Adding to the Nielsen China report, singlehood and the audience’s fascination with parasocial relationships have also shaped the content we see online. Streaming giants, both local and international, have tailored fit the shows they know people will pay to see. Over the past year, we’ve noticed a handful of reality dating competitions show up on streaming site Netflix. From franchises of The Bachelor, Naked and Afraid in Love up to original shows like Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind. And don’t forget the totally obscure Sexy Beasts where daters are decked out in costumes and prosthetics in hopes of making their date fall for their personality.
Just recently, another dating show also made a buzz online: Netflix and JTBC’s dating show Single’s Inferno. The show that featured young and painfully beautiful South Koreans became one of the biggest shows on the platform. In fact, just around two weeks since its release, Single’s Inferno has slipped as one of the Top 10 most-watched global shows on Netflix. It could be attributed to the aggressive marketing efforts of Netflix using South Korean shows, but it adds to the testimony of the growing appeal of watching single people be frustratingly single on television.
These shows allow the viewers to vicariously experience the rush of getting into and being in the relationship minus the need to actually reach out and meet new people firsthand. But for those people who are brave enough to experience that rush, there are content creators and brands that cater to personalized experiences. From recorded video greetings of celebrities, boyfriend experiences on Onlyfans to brands hosting contests to win fan experiences.
Shifting from a mere holiday to a global phenomenon, singlehood has become one of the defining by-products of the 21st century. With their newfound liberty in life and their experience with globalization, more and more young people choose to be single instead. Rather than investing in relationships (which is quite expensive), many are choosing to invest their time, money, and energy in things that would personally benefit them. In many ways, singlehood is the post-modern antithesis to our centuries-old obsession with marriage and procreation.
This antithesis also became one of the biggest marketing ploys of the modern-day economy, often taking the guise of celebrating self-love, liberation, and freedom. It has spawned numerous billion-dollar industries from skincare regimens to online streaming content. In fact, by 2040 single living will continuously gain popularity and dominate half of the global household economy with the Philippines reaching a 400% increase in household expenditure.
To quote Alexis Rose from Schitt’s Creek, “the singles market is [a] lucrative [business]” and neglecting the needs of single people is simply bad business. Gone are the days that society can look down on people who remain single. If anything, we should be shifting the way we look at singlehood in its entirety. Coupling has already become perfunctory after all–a default direction in a heteronormative society. Those who chose to take a different route, for whatever reason they may have, are just as productive as those who take the conventional road. Either way, as long as one enjoys the scenic views, who’s to say which is right and wrong?
Roace Alfonso is an HR and Management Practitioner for an overseas company located in Makati, Philippines. When he’s not occupied with work, he’s busy binging on anything that captures his interest, working out, and meditating.