In her chic Beijing studio, 26-year-old Summer Liu relaxes on a sofa, admiring the pink vase she keeps full of fresh flowers. In the eastern city of Jining, Hu Jiying, 81, sits on an old bed that’s scattered with clothes, towels and half a bag of snacks, worrying about the cost of her medicine.
What they have in common is that they live alone, two ends of a rapidly growing demographic that is breaking down China’s traditional family structure and presenting the government with a social and environmental headache.
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.