Monday, March 26, 2012

Living alone trend makes people depressed - consumer insight to use or not?

Over the world, more and more people are living alone. In Australia, 26% of all households held only one person in 2006, and that share is predicted to grow to over 30% by 2026.

Today I read in Science Daily that the number of people living on their own has doubled, over the last three decades, in the UK and US – which has sad side effects, according to a Finish study.

New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Public Health shows that the risk of depression, measured by people taking antidepressants, is almost 80% higher for those living alone compared to people living in any kind of social or family group.

Dr Laura Pulkki-RÃ¥back, who conducted the research at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, explained, "Our study shows that people living alone have an increased risk of developing depression.

For women a third of this risk was attributable to sociodemographic factors, such as lack of education and low income. For men the biggest contributing factors included poor job climate, lack of support at the work place or in their private lives, and heavy drinking.

It is known that living alone can increase the risk of mental health problems for the elderly, and for single parents, but little is known about the effects of isolation on working-age people.

Researchers in Finland followed 3500 working-aged men and women for seven years and compared their living arrangements with psychosocial, sociodemographic, and health risk factors, including smoking, heavy drinking and low physical activity, to antidepressant use. Information on antidepressant medication was taken from the National Prescription Register.

The researchers suggest that this may be due to feelings of alienation from society, lack of trust, or difficulties arising from critical life events.”

I wonder about these kinds of studies... All research of happiness show that people who are in relationships or have close friends, who feel loved and seen, are happier than others. But does loneliness create unhappiness, or are unhappy people seeking loneliness?

Higher living standards have over the decades raised the possibilities for people to have their own pad, and this has created a lot of freedom and peace – for some. In the book "Going Solo: The extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone" the author presents research from interviewing 300 people who live alone, and the result was that most singletons were not lonely souls, but socially active. 

For others, it has become an opportunity to escape and hide; they might be naturally shy and by living alone they never get challenged to meet others.

There will be good and bad with everything, and media will always spot it. If the development was “flats are overcrowded” I bet that would be seen as a problem as well... For marketers it is interesting to watch the movements of our society though. If people are living alone, and feeling bad, this is an interesting consumer insight. Will those people need other types of products and services? Will they need cheering up? Are they immune towards ads showing happy groups of people laughing in the sunshine (beer and clothes ads....), in the same way that smokers are immune towards too negative anti-smoking ads (my research shows most smokers turn the TV off or go out for a smoke to avoid the truth)?

I know it´s a sensitive topic, to talk about how marketing can “trick” depressed people. But on the other hand, I believe brands can do a job here and enhance the mood of those people suffering. Living alone is not the problem – sadness and loneliness is. Attitude is the key, and brands can through digital media reach those people who have gotten stuck in negative thought patterns. Brands can make a difference – and win the customer´s heart at the same time of course. Cynical or not? If it makes a positive difference in people´s lives, who cares?

Maybe a hair styling brand could skip the beauty contests that damage young girls self esteem and instead spread inspirational quotes and coaching tips on their Facebook site? Maybe a beer brand can invite all the lonely people to a party, instead of simply showing hip happy 20 year olds having fun (rubbing it in)? What if a bank had an open meeting for singles on how to handle your economy when living alone - who knows what could happen? :)

And, good news for those not feeling to well... at least unhappy brains are better brains, 

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