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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 18:50 GMT
Britain becomes a nation of loners
Single woman
One in every two people aged 75 or above lives alone
Britons are twice as likely to live alone as they were 30 years ago, new research suggests.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey of 19,266 people aged 16 or above indicated that nearly a third of households contain just one person.

In 1971 the proportion was one in every six.

The proportion of parents who live together also fell from 92% in 1974 to 74% last year.

Home alone

The survey suggests one in every two people aged 75 or above lives alone, compared with 12% of those aged between 25 and 44.

Behind the statistics are the high divorce rate plus an increase in the number of couples choosing to marry later in life.

But Denise Knowles, counsellor for marriage guidance group Relate, told BBC News Online that the older couples are when they embark on a serious relationship, the more likely it is to last.

"A lot of young people who have gone into serious relationships are coming out of those relationships again," she said.

People naturally need company - we are used to being together

Marriage guidance counsellor, Denise Knowles

"And what I am seeing in my counselling room is a lot of emotional immaturity.

"Young people are not as worldly-wise or as ready for serious relationships as they once were."

But although waiting longer for a serious relationship may be advisable, it is not such a good idea to put it off indefinitely, according to Ms Knowles.

"People naturally need company - we are used to being together," she said.

Ms Knowles also suggested that longer working days may be becoming a substitute for the social contact normally afforded by family life.

She concluded: "There is also a fear of commitment - people look at the divorce rate and do not want to take the risk of becoming another statistic."

The proportion of women aged between 18 and 49 who are married dropped from nearly three-quarters in 1979 to just above half last year.

But being home alone may be more pleasant as well as more prevalent as homes become increasingly high-tech.

Home entertainment

One in three now have internet access, according to the survey.

The proportion with a computer went from 34% in 1998 to 45% in 2000, while those with a compact disk player rose from 69% to 77%, and those with satellite, cable or digital television soared from 29% to 40%.

But more traditional forms of home entertainment are also on the ascendancy.

While the number of adult smokers continues to decline, the proportion of women who had drunk more than six units of alcohol on at least one day in the week before the survey rose from 8% in 1998 to 10% last year.

The average weekly consumption of women aged between 16 and 24 rose from 11 units to 12.6.

See also:

27 Mar 00 | UK
Home alone v Crowded house
08 Feb 99 | Health
Men missing out on romance
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