Many Australians live alone

Many Australians live alone

Media release — 3 March 2015

A quarter of all Australian households are now lone person households, according to a new demographic trends paper released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

AIFS' Senior Research Fellow, Professor David de Vaus said that the percentage of one-person households had increased in Australia from 8 per cent in 1946 to 24 per cent in 2011.

"The Australian rate of lone households is similar to that of other English-speaking countries like New Zealand (22 per cent) and the United Kingdom (29 per cent) and falls between the high level found in Sweden and Denmark and the lower rates in parts of Asia, Central and South America," Professor de Vaus said.

"Many factors underlie the shift including cultural background, age, family breakdown and levels of affluence.

"In some quarters, this trend has been linked to a decline in commitment to family living, increased social fragmentation and a rise in loneliness. For others, living alone has been celebrated as reflecting greater choice.

"Living alone is a little more common among women, than among men, and women who live alone are, on average, substantially older than men who live alone.

"There's also been a sharp increase in the proportion of those living alone who are aged over 80, up from 9 per cent in 1986 to 15 per cent of those who live alone, a 62 per cent increase.

"This has coincided with an increase in people living alone in their middle years. Now a third of all those on their own are aged between 40-59 years of age.

"In this middle aged group living alone often results from separation and divorce; among younger age groups it is linked with delays in marriage; while among older people, it is more often than not the result of the death of a partner."

Co-author of the paper, AIFS Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lixia Qu said levels of social advantage and disadvantage were other factors affecting whether people lived alone or with others.

"A consistent picture emerges that shows that younger women who live alone are a socially advantaged group in terms of their education, occupation and incomes," Dr Qu said.

"They stand out from women who do not live alone and from men in general in the same age groups. In many respects these young women who live alone are well to-do and have choices.

"They may live alone because their success provides them with more options which means they do not need to partner or their work and career provide more attractions than partnering and having a family.

"The success of these young women may also reflect an educational and occupational ‘mismatch' between unattached younger men and women.

"Given the longstanding pattern for women to ‘marry up', the shortage of equally or more successful young men may mean that these young women find it more difficult to find a suitable partner who is comfortable with a more successful partner."

Dr Qu said while living alone was linked to social advantage for younger women, that was not the case for middle-aged men.

"Middle aged men on their own tend to have relatively low levels of education and are more likely to be in the lowest two income groups, compared to men the same age who live with others.

"While a person's age and gender can affect the way they perceive living alone, we're seeing a much more complex demographic shift than simply large numbers of people having failed to develop or sustain relationships."

Read Australian Family Trends No. 6: Demographics of living alone

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