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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Solo living: A worrying trend?
For the first time more people are living alone, or as single parents, than in a traditional family unit, according to new research.

The study of how family life has changed since the 1960s - carried out by The Future Foundation - found that living alone is now the norm in the UK.

By 2030 people living alone will outnumber traditional families by three to one.

It also found that are now fewer families with children than ever before, but those who do have children spend more time with them.

What do you think of these trends? What does family mean to you?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


In time we will have to come to accept that there are alternatives to family units

Girish Karnad, UK
I grew up in India where the family unit is still very strong. However, there are signs that even that is now changing. After all if people have the choice and the freedom to live in the way they choose then who's to stop them. In time we will have to come to accept that there are alternatives to family units and that ultimately it is individuals and not families who make up societies.
Girish Karnad, UK

It's a healthy sign of a more honest and decent society when people can live alone without stigma, rather than being forced to live in violent, abusive or simply deeply unhappy artificial "family units". For centuries many have lived "on their own" within failed relationships, showing a false front to the world, as society would not accept the reality that most relationships just will not survive a lifetime.
Bernard, UK

Whilst it is unfortunate that some people never find/keep a partner, the trend for actively wanting to live alone is worrying as it can often lead to selfish, self-absorbed people. You are never wrong when you live only with your cat, you win every argument and never need to learn to compromise - surely slightly unhealthy. Furthermore, single living is an uneconomic use of housing and encourages urban sprawl. Too many cats also lead to fewer songbirds, although I think I'm clutching at straws now!
Adrian, UK


Prospects for the future don't seem bright

Mwewa Kyamulanda, Zambia
From an African perspective all I see is evolution. When we lived in caves everyone was a brother and sister, mother and father. We had to stick together to survive. We 'advanced' a bit during colonialism and those who worked in the mines had to take care of the whole clan. The extended family became the norm. Cousin and brother were one and the same.The growth of the city complicated everything and Western culture caught us like a virus. Prospects for the future don't seem bright. Our children will grow up without nurture, only nature. And every dog knows the consequences!
Mwewa Kyamulanda, Zambia

Before deciding whether to worry about this we should distinguish between "living alone" and "living lonely". Many people, myself included, enjoy living alone, have friends, relationships and greatly enjoy life. However, I agree it could be viewed as a tad selfish, as the benefits are not having to consider others when at home in terms of music, food, TV choices etc.
Alex Keenleyside, England

I am single, I own my own flat and rather than live in a destructive relationship I now live alone. This does not mean that I spend my time inside my home staring blankly at the walls, watching only soap operas and eating boil in the bag food. But surely it is less worrying to be in the situation I am in now than the one I was in before... which frankly was not ideal for either party and did leave me far more concerned about myself after a time. Now I am a far, far happier, more relaxed person. I can be myself in my own home and there is all the time in the world for the rest to happen. Until then let them worry... they do not live my life... it is great!
Mel, UK


It is resulting in a good mix of well-rounded individuals with different aspirations and desires in life

P Gleave, UK
At 26, I live with my partner and 6 month old son. Two years ago, I lived on my own and the thought of children or family never entered my mind. Both myself and my partner lived solo and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now we have each other and our son, all through chance, and we thoroughly enjoy our lives. These days, living alone has become a natural life stage and I feel a thoroughly beneficial stage to allow you to develop yourself and life skills. I have many friends living solo and as couples who thoroughly enjoy their lives. How can this trend be worrying? From my experience, it is resulting in a good mix of well-rounded individuals with different aspirations and desires in life. For once, society is not dictating how our lives should be, i.e. to leave home, start a family, have 2.4 children, but instead, people, and my generation especially, are going out and actually living life how they want to live it, and I think that should be regarded as a good thing!
P Gleave, UK

I don't think people should worry about the trend, and surely if people are now spending more time with their children if they have them then this is a very good thing! I've lived in shared accommodation with friends at Uni, on my own, and now that I'm married with my husband. And which did I like best? Being on my own (sorry H). No-one's mess to clear up but my own, no-one's clutter but my own. I've read reports that claim that women tend to be happier when they live alone (not having to put all that effort into looking after husband and children and generally be an unpaid skivvy) and I have to say that for me at least I agree. I guess I'll have to move H out to the shed)
Sarah, UK

I don't find the idea of more and more people choosing to live alone, worrying. What worries me is the fact that the "moral majority" thinks this is abnormal! If choosing to live alone and relishing coming home to the peace and quiet of a child free, spouse free home, when I've been surrounded by noise and activity all day, makes me abnormal, I'd sooner be a happy weirdo than a miserable conformist! The "baby brigade" should accept that not everyone wants marriage/cohabitation and kids. I have no problems with people wanting that, it's a matter of individual choice. So why are so many folk getting worked up about those of us who choose not to opt for those things?
Sian, Wales, UK

I'm tired of reading all these comments saying that us people who live alone must therefore be lonely and depressed. Speak for yourselves! Don't transfer your feelings onto others. Just because you can't bear to be alone doesn't mean the rest of us feel that way. I am alone, I'm not lonely - there's a massive difference. Personally I need and value solitude and silence, I couldn't live without it. A noisy house with the constant sound of people talking, moving, watching TV etc would drive me mad.
B Roberts, UK

I think the increasing number of people living alone may be the result of the advancement of technology. People nowadays have fewer face-to-face interactions due to the convenience of communication methods like e-mail and online chatting. This worries me because I believe the increasing divorce rate and the increasing number of people living alone may be an indicator that we, as people, are becoming less and less tolerant of other people. As a result, we have become less willing to learn from the problems that may arise when people live together, and so we would rather just live alone to avoid having friction altogether. However, I agree with Anthony that it is hard to have a true and real relationship with people unless you live with them, and learn to forgive and to understand each other.
Amy I-Hui Lin, Taipei, Taiwan

The notion that having children makes one "responsible" and "grown-up" in some way is ludicrous of course. Is that why we have such a huge need for family counselling and other child-protective services etc? Yes, I'm living single, but not alone. Strangely enough single people have "responsibilities" as well e.g. the ill relative I'm caring for. I'm quite happy to pay my taxes to educate other people's children. Where else would all the teachers and doctors come from?
Arri London, EU/US


I'm still part of a family even if I do live alone!

Kyle W, Australia
Who's worried about it? Only the PM and his religious fundamentalist friends with their simplistic notions of family (mum, dad and 2.4 dependent kids). I'm still part of a family even if I do live alone! And I'm busy preparing for an independent, healthy retirement with the money the government reluctantly spares me after I've paid for all the dead-beat parents and their delinquent kids!
Kyle W, Australia

I'm glad to see that people who live on their own have cats. Hurrah for cats! Sometimes life just turns out like that.
Adam Cree, Great Britain

I grew up in a single parent family. My mother really suffered as a result of not having a partner for support and now that I am nearing the end of university I dread the thought of doing the same thing and living alone for the rest of my life. People who live alone are far more likely to be lonely or depressed - so on these pragmatic grounds alone, it's vital that society realises the value of living together.
James, England


You can live alone but still recognise your responsibilities to wider society

Graeme Buckley, New Zealand
I live alone with a cat, by preference. I accept that most people do want to mate and produce offspring, but it is not compulsory. I am willing to pay taxes for services I will never use directly, such as childcare, primary schools etc. Taxes are fees paid to live in a complex interdependent society and in some cases must be regarded as an inter-generational transfer. Unfortunately many of the so-called boomer generation were willing to accept the benefits paid for by their parents' generation but now they have their grubby paws on the levers of power, they've decided it's user pays, i.e. pull up the ladder that lets them scale the heights. You can live alone but still recognise your responsibilities to wider society.
Graeme Buckley, New Zealand

I live alone and feel that this new trend is more of a social evolution: traditionally people's loyalties have been to their family, their 'tribe', for whom they are willing to kill and to die. When you live alone, you feel a companionship with others who also live alone that transcends 'blood' family, and results in a feeling of brotherhood or sisterhood with other individuals who are simply that - individuals.
Andrew Hunt, UK

It is absolutely frightening that so many human beings are finding their pets more trustable than humans. And it is no wonder: there's almost a concerted effort in so many parts of the media to demotivate people from entering into a healthy relationship. Just look at the soap operas that keep feeding the idea that marriage and long-term relationships are bad for you.
Moris, UK


The increasing propensity to have fewer or no children should be a concern

Chris Klein, UK
Family is everything to me. I have six children from one marriage that continues to grow stronger. The increasing number of single parents is a worry because children need both parents, as nature and God intended. The increasing propensity to have fewer or no children should be a concern as the taxable, working population will come under severe strain as it is called upon to support the increasingly large population of elderly and infirm people.
Chris Klein, UK

I am single so living alone makes absolute sense! Sharing with flatmates is fun when you're a student but now that I am in my early thirties and earning a nice salary, I wouldn't have it any other way. Living alone is a common trend in London - very common. I am a gay man so the notion of the traditional family is not important to me.
Chris, London

The trend toward solo living is, in my opinion, a symptom of a fragmented and increasingly individualistic society and is very concerning. The reasons for this must be complex. Trust certainly seems to be missing in every area in our society and particularly with regard to the forming of relationships. This inevitably has consequences for how people view and weigh up the benefit - risk of getting 'involved' with someone.
Andy Haynes, UK

I work in a busy office but have lived alone for 26 years and now much prefer the company of my cats to that of another human being when I get home. When women were unable to get a mortgage and earned far less than their male colleagues their choice was between living with their parents as a spinster or marrying for life. Now we are financially independent, more and more of us are choosing to live alone.
Gina, England


Over the years I'm sure we have both learnt to be less selfish

Anthony, England
I find it difficult to understand how people can want to live on their own. I find it very lonely when my wife and I do not see each other for more than a day. Over the years I'm sure we have both learnt to be less selfish and more understanding of each other's feelings otherwise we wouldn't have remained married. I can't see that anyone can have a true relationship with anyone else unless they live together and learn to understand and forgive each other's weaknesses.
Anthony, England

Why is this worrying? What would be of real concern is if there had been no change in how people live since 1961. If we all got married at 22 and had 3 or 4 kids, there would be a massive population problem yet a enormous skill shortage and Third World economy due to women having to stay at home.
Deborah, UK

There's nothing to worry about. Living on your own is wonderful. This trend promises a whole new section of society free to contribute to it in new ways. Whether living on one's own remains so positive in old age is another matter.
Mark Hirst, UK

Well if you've ever wondered why house prices keep going up, now you know - most people want one each!
J.P., UK

I do not think it is a worrying trend. In fact it shows how much we have progressed. People used to have to get married in order to pool resources and live 'independently'. Now most people can afford to live alone. I am married myself, but if I had not met my wife I would have been perfectly happy living alone. I do worry about lone parents though. Nothing to do with morals, I just think it is too much for the average person to work full-time and take care of young children.
Tim, UK


There's very little support for people who want to start a family in this country

Christine, UK
It's worrying that there are fewer families with children than there used to be but that's a result of a long time of family-unfriendly policies. There's very little support for people who want to start a family in this country. You need two incomes to afford your mortgage and couples cannot afford to take time off or pay for childcare. We have a huge problem with an ageing population in this country. Now is the time to provide REAL maternity benefits and affordable childcare to everybody. The people who say "If you can't afford to have kids you shouldn't have any" and "Why do the childless have to support all those lazy parents?" are the same people who, when they retire, will start complaining that there are no carers, or doctors, or nurses. Wake up Britain! We need kids today, cause today's kids will be tomorrow's carers, doctors, nurses and taxpayers.
Christine, UK

I don't view solo living as a worrying trend. These days, more and more people are discovering the freedom of moving away from the people and place they were raised, and living their lives in communities of their choice - choosing their work, their friends, their individual lifestyle, rather than being stuck in old-fashioned social structures. It's a wonderfully liberating experience - everyone should try it.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire UK


People realise that no relationship is forever and expect to live their lives on their own

Daniel, UK
The world is a lot different to how it used to be. Human relations are not the same as in the recent past, shown in the way people dance on their own at clubs nowadays rather than how it used to be in couples. I think people nowadays have to realise that no relationship is forever and should expect to live their lives on their own, anything else being a bonus.
Daniel, UK

Modern day Britain's abandonment of traditional values such as heterosexual marriage, discipline of children in schools and pro-minority discrimination of all kinds has a lot to answer for. The legal recognition of both gay and heterosexual relationships outside marriage will only add further to the problem. What has happened since the 1950s that invalidates a stable marriage and family as the best environment in which to raise children with responsibility and mores?
Edwin, Britain

I admire those ethnic groups that have a strong sense of family values and look after and respect their elders instead of forcing them into a retirement home when things get too much. More respect for the family would do a lot for preventing some of the problems associated with today's juveniles.
Mike J Davies, Wales, UK


No one will have real happiness alone

Chi-tong Cheng, Taiwan
I believe that family is an important element to one's life. No one will have real happiness alone. There are broken families, but there are still many more happy families. We cannot negate the value of the family, that's where you can shelter.
Chi-tong Cheng, Taiwan

I think the current trends reflect our economy. I myself am a single person working to create a better life and career for myself. Once I am stable in my career I can support a family. With the high demands jobs put on people now, we have no time for family life. This isn't the same times our parents grew up in. Times change, and so do peoples goals and aspirations.
Dain, Washington DC, US

I find it difficult to understand how people can and want to live on their own. I find it very lonely when my wife and I do not see each other for more than a day. Over the years I'm sure we have both learnt to be less selfish and more understanding of each other's feelings, otherwise we wouldn't have remained married. I can't see that anyone can have a true relationship with anyone else unless they live together and learn to understand and forgive eachother's weaknesses.
Anthony, England


Britain now seems full of people in their 30s who still behave like children

Rob, UK
People nowadays are less prepared to compromise, which is why fewer people live with a partner. Raising our children on a modest income without any other family support has been a struggle for my wife and I but I don't envy those childless people who choose to reach their 40s/50s/60s without their own children. Having children gives you more responsibility and helps you grow up. Britain now seems full of people in their 30s who still behave like children.
Rob, UK

Nobody wants to face a dark, empty house when he works all day with an exhausted body or when he feels lonely and neither do I.
CTC, Taiwan


I have no responsibilities to anyone other than myself, and that's the way I like it

Diane Eastlake, UK
I'm 35 years old, single and female. I have a good job, a nice flat and a healthy social life. I don't have a partner/spouse at the moment, and I live alone. I have no responsibilities to anyone other than myself, and that's the way I like it. I don't want children because, quite frankly, I'm too selfish with my time, my career and my money. I've heard all the arguments about 'you'll feel different when you have one' and I may well do, but I really don't want to try it.
I'm a great aunty to five nephews, and I speak to my parents at least twice a week. I love my family and look forward to spending time with them, and it's only because I'm happy in my 'solo life' that I can appreciate just how important they are to me, and can show it so readily.
Diane Eastlake, UK

I live alone and I am proud of it. In New Zealand, where I come from, this is not a problem as the government doesn't make it a problem. They are far more relaxed than over in UK. I have a share in a house and have recently been to Gambia alone, I am perfectly happy without a partner, though I have a few complaints about my job.
Myles Smith, Sale, UK

I think the results of this research are positive news. It appears that those who start a family are doing so because they are committed to it, rather than because they feel they have to.
Emily Bird, England

I live with just my cat. I have spawned no dependants to drain the state's resources, and I subsidise other people via my taxes. I'm paying my own way, and as a result consider it my right to live in my own space without having to share it with people whose personal agendas could well be at odds with mine. "Fewer families with children than ever before" is worrying though: since the population continues to rise the proportion of kids without proper families is also increasing which means there are going to be even more dysfunctional delinquent, uneducated youths.
P, UK


Perhaps the fact that so many of us live alone is the reason for the massive house building programs

Chris Cowdery, UK
Perhaps the fact that so many of us live alone is the reason for the massive house building programs that are ripping through the countryside. After all, if we all live alone, we need twice as many houses as if we lived in pairs.
Chris Cowdery, UK

These trends are not necessarily a bad thing. Surely fewer families with children will do wonders for the ever-growing world population? Parents spending more time with their children causes an increase of quality life for them. All positive.
L, UK

It's a very sad trend. There are countless benefits to living together, whether in a family unit or as a group of friends. Humans are not meant to be alone. I am newly married but the two of us currently live with my parents. We actually had to for financial reasons but we've discovered so many benefits in terms of sharing chores, home security, saving costs and general sociability all of which make life's daily hassles seem greatly diminished compared with living solo.
Alastair Stevens, UK


I'm 24 and living at home and it's driving me crazy!

Sandra, UK
I'm 24 and living at home and it's driving me crazy! I didn't go to university and that has meant mum and dad have not got out of the habit of treating me like a kid. However, I live in the south east of England and house prices are too much for one person to afford. Given the chance I would love to live on my own but only for a while.
Sandra, UK

I hope now the government take notice and start to give tax breaks to single people. All we see is family this and children that - who is going to pander to the single person's vote now that we are the majority?
Pearce Frenum, UK

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Westhead reports
"This is a seismic shift in society."
See also:

11 Jan 02 | UK
Living alone is 'the norm'
09 Jan 02 | Business
Parental leave rules extended
27 Mar 00 | UK
Home alone v Crowded house
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