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More Britons live alone


More Britons are living alone than ever before, with more men than women living on their own between the ages of 25 and 44. And once someone has gone solo, they are more likely to remain living alone shows new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Using census statistics and data tracking the lives of more than 150,000 individuals in England and Wales since 1971, researchers led by Malcolm Williams, of the University of Plymouth, found a significant increase in those living on their own. The study predicts that this trend will continue.

According to the latest statistics, the population has grown by five per cent over the past 30 years, but the number of households with just one occupant is up by 31 per cent.

In their late teens and early 20s, either sex is just as likely to live solo before setting up home as a couple, says the report. But between the ages of 25 and 44, men are more prone to going it alone.

If a man’s relationship breaks down, he is more likely to change to a lone existence, whereas women tend to live as one-parent households. For women, the transition to solo living comes mostly in their 40s and 50s, as their children leave home or as their relationships with partners dissolve.

The study reveals that the percentage of those aged between 15 and 44 in 1971, who lived alone and reported being permanently sick, increased at each census from 0.4 per cent in 1971 to 12 per cent in 1991, due largely to ageing. Up to the age of 34 the likelihood of reporting permanently sick was extremely low, but after 35 it grew steadily.

There was also a growing overall tendency for people who live alone to report permanent sickness. In the age band 25 - 34, the percentage doubled between 1971 and 1981, and among those of 35 – 44 there was a similar rise at each census between 1971 and 1991. For the 45 – 54 age band, it also doubled between 1981 and 1991.

But the study argues that this is likely to reflect increases in both permanent sickness and living alone rather than a major trend towards people living solo when they are sick. Malcolm Williams said: "Although men over 25 and permanently sick were always found more likely to live alone, this was not so for women. There was no evidence to suggest that living alone for a long period results in permanent sickness being more likely. Nor did we find that those who stopped living alone suddenly ceased reporting themselves as sick".

The percentage living alone increased from 1.6 per cent in 1971 to 3.5 per cent in 1981, and to 8.4 per cent in 1991. Being alone was closely associated with ageing, and younger generations were increasingly likely to live individually.

Just how long we live alone varies according to age and sex. For those between 15 and 24, it is a transitory phase, but after 25 the chances of doing so for longer periods increase as the years go by.

Becky Gammon | EurekAlert!
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