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Monday, 27 March, 2000, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Britain singled out as lonely nation
Lone parent
There are 1.6m lone parents in Britain
A steady decline in marriages coupled with rising divorce rates has revealed that Britain may be turning into a nation of loners.

A study published on Monday reports that fewer people are now getting married than at any time in the past 40 years. Have your say The independent Family Policy Studies Centre (FPSC) findings show that more than 6.5 million people in Britain - about 28% of households - now live on their own, three times as many as 40 years ago.
Facts of family life
Britain has 16.3m families
Nearly 25% of women born in 1973 will be childless at 45
More than two in five marriages will end in divorce
Less than one in 10 people were cohabiting in 1996
Behind the statistics are the high divorce rate, couples choosing to marry later in life plus an increase in the the number of people cohabiting outside marriage.

Rising numbers of step families, older people, single lone mothers and fewer children also point to a decline in the traditional family unit.

In 1961 approximately 333,000 first time marriages and remarriages took place.

Click here to read what you think about living alone.

In 1997 these figures had dropped to less than 200,000 first time marriages and around 120,000 remarriages.

During the same period the divorce rate increased from 50,000 to 100,000.
Rings
Two in five marriages end in divorce
Almost four in 10 babies are now born outside of marriage with just over 150,000 children experiencing their parents' divorce before the age of 16.

The annual cost of family breakdowns on the public purse is estimated at around 5bn.

FPSC director Ceridwen Roberts said the statistics indicated that marriage and partners were "much more fragile than they were".

"Families are becoming smaller, fewer people are marrying and increasing numbers of children are being born outside marriage," she said.

"To date, the focus has been on the effect these changes will have on children. The impact right across the life cycle, including on the growing numbers of older people, must be fully taken on board.

"Government policies must take more account of the changing family to meet family needs and aspirations in the 21st century."


Do you think Britain is turning into a nation of loners? Do you think living alone shows independence or is it just plain sad? Tell us what you think.

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Your views on living alone:

As a single 27-year-old and a touch lonely (at least subconsciously), I can't help but feel that many of correspondents to this debate are a little disillusioned, bitter or in a state of denial about there priorities in life. In essence, most of us want love, marriage, children and security. I would certainly trade my so-called 'independence' for a commitment to giving and sharing without hesitation.
Robert Kidd, Australia

Try living in California, this is the loneliest place in the planet, no one is social at all. Compared to when I was in the UK I find it the last place to find loners, just more independent people wanting to have a laugh and less of the heavy serious life stuff.
John Hyde, USA/UK

I would rather be a reluctant loner than risking the heartbreak of a family break-down.

Dr. K-K. Chan, UK
It is sad that young people these days are brought up with no idea of commitment and stability. For those who are seeking a stable partnership, a steady marriage, a rock-solid family foundation for their offspring and a life-long companion, there is no chance to fulfil such wish. To that extent I feel that I would rather be a reluctant loner than risking the heartbreak of a family break-down.
Dr. K-K. Chan, UK

With the scant choice of social places to meet people - is it any wonder? Deafening night-clubs, smoky and stuffy pubs, rip-off so-called "meet-your-dream-partner" phone lines and so-called dating agencies are contribute to make England a waste of time and money when it comes to dating. The solution? Move abroad!
Adrian Paul Miles, West Midlands, UK

As a frequent visitor to the UK I have noticed that most of my friends, both male and female seem to live on their own. However I don't think that I would call them lonely. I think that many people are starting to reject the age old myth that without someone else in your life you are only half a person.
Rann Shinar, USA

I, for one, definitely will not be having a wife and two point four children.

Ian Eustace, England
It's encouraging to find that people are being more individualistic around the issue of marriage. Being a gay man and politically speaking, a Radical Humanist, I find the attitude this society has toward this choice questionable, particularly the church and the Conservative Party. I, for one, definitely will not be having a wife and two point four children.
Ian Eustace, England

It's very simple really, society is evolving. People have far more freedom of choice about their lifestyle than they have had in the past, and they are choosing. Tradition is the democracy of the dead, they do not have to live in today's society, and should not therefore be allowed to vote.
Andy, UK

Living alone is a side-effect of the modern age, which I am not wholly happy with, probably because it has effected me for quite some time!
Gavin Haslehurst, England

There are no decent men left in the country.

Veronica Williamson, The Netherlands
I think the reason for so many single people is that not many people want to make a commitment these days. I am a single woman of 38 years, I am single, as most of my friends. We all have the one complaint "There are no decent men left in the country".
I think living alone is fine, I have lived alone and am very happy. I feel that too much emphasis is put on being in a partnership. I think the saddest individuals are the ones who have to cement themselves in a relationship because they are too feeble to stand on their own two feet.
Veronica Williamson, The Netherlands

Is it surprising that the younger generations have become apathetic to the institution of marriage after the mockery our parent's generation have made of it?
Will Lahr, England

If you are alone good luck, it's every bit as good a way of life as being married or living together.

Steve Foley, England
I have been single, married and I am single again with a steady girlfriend. There are merits in both situations but I am a great believer in what Wordsworth called the "bliss of solitude". If there are no children I cannot see why people cannot stay in their own houses but come together for mutual company, sex, etc.
Whatever situation one chooses there is nothing worse than to get married just because it is expected of one by parents, religion, culture etc. So if you are alone good luck, it's every bit as good a way of life as being married or living together.
Steve Foley, England

I did not always know it, but others brand me odd because of my bookish/studious life style. Others that think they command great knowledge of right and wrong are usually too impatient to reason things out. To my mind we need to be more tolerant with our selves and others.
Leon, UK

Humans are social animals, and we need each other. This is what makes us so special, and the driving force that made us shape the world to what it is today. Failing to recognise this fundamental truth may prove to be more destructive to our society than the apocalypse.
Don MacAskill, Scotland

Although I'm unmarried (and quite happy that way) it bugs me when people say that financially they will be no better off if they get married. When getting married it should be for reasons other than financial gain.
Just because your aren't married doesn't mean you're lonely either.
Paul McCarthy, UK

Divorce has eroded the institution of marriage to the point of meaningless extravagance.

Gordon Lewis, UK
Speaking personally, as a co-habitee whose own parents divorced, I feel that it would be dishonest of me to make a lifetime commitment that I am unable to guarantee. Divorce has eroded the institution of marriage to the point of meaningless extravagance, wishful thinking or even hypocrisy.
Maybe the words of the service should be changed to "'till divorce do us part". Or change a few words here and there to reflect that it is an aspiration not a commitment. What is far more important is the commitment a parent gives to their children. Maybe the new service should mention the individual responsibility that each parent has to the children of the union.
Gordon Lewis, UK

I think that the trend is very, very sad. Society will come to deeply regret the results of telling women that they can have both a career and a family. I truly believe that a major contribution to the ridiculously high divorce rate is the falsely increased expectations of women.
Tony Hague, UK

As two single people you can have two mortgages at 3 times your individual salaries. As a married couple you can only buy a property worth 2.5 times your joint income. Getting married costs around 10,000. The government has abolished married couples tax allowance. In effect we penalise marriage in this country.
Jason, Scotland

Today's strong independent will become tomorrow's lonely pensioner.

John Alexander Kral, Sweden
It's just plain sad that people live alone, because we can support and spread happiness to others by giving up our independence when we are strong loners, because today's strong independent will become tomorrows lonely pensioner.
John Alexander Kral, Sweden

As ever, broad statistics don't necessarily tell the whole story. For example, what percentage of people remain "alone" for more than, say, a year? Is it possible that the increasing percentage of "loners" indicates a desire to "reflect" on what kind of relationship and with whom to partake rather than immediately dive into another as was once required, particularly of women, by the norms of the community.
Julian Charatan, UK

A real relationship is about sharing, giving and being prepared to compromise. These are things that come from loving each other. Adultery, marriage break-up and people turning their back on their moral responsibilities are the kind of things that the media values. Why? Because a whole industry of gossip and titillation can be made from this.
The media push and reinforce these actions as if they are the norm. Consequently, the attitude and expectations of the people in our society change towards these negative ambitions.
Matt, England

With the government taking away the married couples allowance there is no incentive to get married. Also, lawyers make so much from a divorce by making people ask for ridiculous amounts, even when there are no children involved.
Dave, England

Morals, patience and the desire to couple for life are dwindling.

Flippant She-Creature, Britain
Britain is changing that's sure, but I don't think its decaying. Evolution can always appear to the untrained eye as destruction. As we (Sadly) become more introspective and consumed with our own internal affairs we have begun to get lost in it all. I think Britain has become a nation of the confused. Morals, patience and the desire to couple for life are dwindling, and freedom, fear and capitalism are on the up. As I'm a reasonably well paid individual I say fair enough.
Flippant She-Creature, Britain

Successive governments have long paid lip service to promoting "family values". When will it finally be understood that programmes and public funds are needed to effectively promote the family?
V Salzmann, UK

Not getting married does *not* equal being alone, or living alone. There are many reasons why couples choose not to get married - one is even because the law doesn't allow many couples to get married (same sex couples, for instance).
In my own case, my long-term partner and I are not married, but we're most certainly not "loners". Marriage, for us, simply isn't something we want.
L. Porter, UK

The World is full of opportunities, many people just want a taste - Why get married?

Stuart, UK
My partner and myself are one of these couples who "live in sin." I come from a background of a broken home. I feel that couples nowadays prefer, as others have said, to live together because of what has happened in their pasts, and would rather become another statistic.
My girlfriend's parents are still married after 30 years, and have proved to me that there is hope in the institution of marriage. There are however, no benefits, or pressures for us to get married. We are extremely happy living the life we lead. Marriage can not be the same as it was in the 60s because of the rise in divorces, which ultimately changes the lives and attitudes of the children brought up in single parent households. The World is full of opportunities, many people just want a taste - Why get married?
Stuart, UK

It seems to me that the British government is too eager to award single parents. With rising house prices and the cost of living it seems easier now for young females to fall pregnant and then be rewarded with a house and good income from the government whilst the father of the child gets away scott free.
Dave Endacott, England

Many young men I know have very low expectations from relationships with women indeed.

Phil, UK
It doesn't come as any surprise to me that we are becoming a nation of loners. Today's society increasingly emphasises the importance of being an extremely selfish, self-obsessed person. This position is fundamentally incompatible with the sharing and consideration that are necessary for a successful relationship.
I believe the current situation is essentially an upshot of the war of the sexes that began when women tried to redress the extreme imbalance of power 30 years ago. Women declared their independence and today we have an entire generation of young men who have become completely disenchanted with society and regard "looking out for number one" as the only valid strategy for modern life. Many young men I know have very low expectations from relationships with women indeed.
Phil, UK

Let's face it - the main reason for family stability historically has been economic. As people, and especially women, have become more financially independent it raises the bar that any prospective partners have to vault. People have simply become more choosy, both individually and collectively, because they can afford to be. How politicians think they can reverse the trends by preaching "Family Values" escapes me.
Peter Pickering, UK

The government is doing nothing to help single educated people in getting married. I work in East London as a newly qualified EHO earning a gross salary of 23,500 p.a. but this is not enough to enable me to afford to buy a decent house even in the "poor" east end.
Being straight, white and single I have no housing priority. Currently I rent a room from a Landlady who does not allow women back to the house. This severely restricts any courting I can do. I will soon be 31yrs old and can see no way of how I can afford to live in a decent property without living like a hermit.
Adrian, England

Commitment and responsibility to others is also becoming less important.

Andrew Milne, Kuwait
Living alone does show independence, but I also think that it represents the reason why fewer people are becoming involved in longer term relationships. Freedom to do what one wants is more and more important to young people. Commitment and responsibility to others is also becoming less important. People are afraid to get married because younger people see breaking up as an inevitable part of a relationship.
With children and young adults being taught to be more career focused, relationships become less important in their lives. Getting married is forever seen as something to do in later life. When people do start thinking of getting married, they have become so ingrained in a single life that the sacrifices and commitment needed to make a successful marriage are no longer high priorities - instead the highest priority is the preservation of a way of life that has been established over many years.
Andrew Milne, Kuwait

As one of those living alone I find it neither sad nor lonely. I am single (not separated or divorced). and I find very little time to feel lonely looking after two horses, two cats, eight hens, four ducks and a large garden seems to keep me pleasantly occupied with sufficient time available for the occasional visit to the pub and to do some cooking.
In short my lifestyle suits me and if it suits me what concern should it be for others.
M Brimacombe, England

Describing Britons as a Nation of loners is a bit over the top. Not getting married does not qualify everyone as a loner!!!
Joan Fitzpatrick, England

The petty, bickering, divided Britain of today is indeed a sad spectacle.

Alex Chiang, Australia
Britain has been falling to pieces socially, culturally and economically since the sixties and the rest of the world is indifferent. Your ex-colonial possessions, notably India, are pettily gleeful about it. However much you might try to this issue up with pompous pronouncements about freedom of choice, they know it's a symptom of the decay of your dead civilisation. British society has quietly disintegrated like the ill-crafted, tin clockwork playthings of which your pallid, under-sized children are so fond. After so much greatness, both good and evil, the petty, bickering, divided Britain of today is indeed a sad spectacle.
Alex Chiang, Australia

Living alone? I can't remember the last argument I had with myself. We get along really well, me and myself.
Chris Hale, England

The English tax system no longer supports the family (removed married couple allowance). Abolishing MIRAS and harmonising rights between married and single persons have further eroded the advantages to setting up a home as a family unit. If the government do not see the family as being the basis on which to build a stable society is it any wonder that the concept of the traditional family is being abandoned? Jim Lynch, UK

Living alone for women in their 40s and older is often a positive choice - with busy careers, running a family (particularly where the man is a "traditional" one) is seen as just too much extra work. Perhaps the advent of "new man" will change this.
Anna, UK

There is no need for single people to have their own household.

Jeremy French, UK
Well this explains why the government thinks we need to build more houses. Living while single and living on your own should be treated as separate issues. There is no need for single people to have their own household.
Jeremy French, UK

I live with my partner but the tax laws are such that we would lose out financially if we married. Also we've watched too many people tear themselves apart getting out of unhappy marriages to put such an unnecessary strain on our happy and solid relationship. Independence is not so important but where is the benefit in getting married?
K Sadler, UK

I get really angry at being characterised as a sad lonely person.

Iwan Turzanski, Netherlands
I have been living alone all my life and I do not feel sad about that fact. Not having a family to pressure me I can live a far more relaxed life. With no children to keep on nagging me to buy them the latest gadget or gimmick I do not suffer from guilty feelings when I refuse to buy it for them.
This may all sound rather selfish and in a way it is but I get really angry at being characterised as a sad lonely person by all those so called happily married families. Many of the families I visit seem to live in a pressure cooker of ever competing desires.
Iwan Turzanski, Netherlands

The increase of people choosing to live alone means that women are in control of the lives, because the may get married does not mean that they become the property of the husband and change to his will.
Tony Moody, UK

These days, more women wish to take advantage of equal job opportunities to the extent that many become highly qualified and professional. Likewise, they come to enjoy the independence and self reliance that this brings. Whilst neither sex amongst professionals are totally against matrimony, marriage and starting their own families are often delayed because both sides want to establish themselves first.
I myself married at 21 and had my child at 30, after having established that my husband was fit to be a father. Many peers of my age group have been grandparents for some time. Being a "slightly" older parent does not mean that I have missed out. As for the singles, going by what my single friends say, most of them are happy as they are and take life as it comes.
Hazel, UK

I think society now as a whole would rather spend their money on other important issues as in house buying etc.

Deborah Alphonso, England
Well firstly I would love to get married, but the cost of an average wedding is in the region of 8,000. Now I'm afraid that I could not afford that kind of wedding, I would rather pay that kind of money on a house as a deposit. I think society now as a whole would rather spend their money on other important issues as in house buying etc.
Deborah Alphonso, England

Britain is most certainly turning into a nation of loners, but not for the reasons which everyone maintain. Marriages are breaking down more and more due to the fact that many are putting themselves first before thinking about the needs or aspirations of their partners. If we were to take less from our relationships and became more receptive, giving to the relationship, we would stop being loners and greatly increase the chances of relationships lasting a lot longer.
Ben Kelly, UK

People are becoming more selfish and have a right now attitude.

Jenny Deione, England
I think that this shows that people are becoming more selfish and have a right now attitude. Marriage takes work, commitment and above all compromise.
Years ago it was a lot harder to end a marriage and couples were more willing to try and work it out.
Jenny Deione, England

It's just plain sad. Look at the suicide statistics, look at the average health of single people. Look at the despair on the streets. It's just very very sad.
Ken Stealey, England

Britain is not a nation of loners it's the nation of the lonely. We are sold an image of true love (in songs by moronic boy bands, TV soaps and dramas) that is never realistic or attainable.
We break the family and society up by sticking old people into care (an ironic phrase I suppose), being immature about divorce (too many people can't get on with their lives after divorce without using their children as pawns in the fight), and not valuing close friendships enough.
Maybe if we started spending less effort in pursuing good times and focussed on having a good life we might learn about long term, supportive friendships.
Martin Bentley, UK

Marriage is now seen by most single men I know as a high risk option.

Graham Lancaster, United Kingdom
I am a single man through bereavement. My change in circumstances has brought me back into contact with the single social scene after 15 years, and I was amazed by how many single men today are afraid to commit to marriage because they have seen the long lasting and devastating financial effects that marriage breakdown can cause, made worse by what they perceive as unfair CSA assessments. Marriage is now seen by most single men I know as a high risk option.
Graham Lancaster, United Kingdom

One of the main problems these days is that many people are not willing to commit themselves to someone else and be willing to sacrifice their own personal desires for the sake of their partner. Society has become very self-centred and has taken hold of the view that "What I want is what counts most".
Lack of commitment is not the only problem, but also the ease of divorce, the social "acceptability" of unfaithfulness in marriage and so-called sexual freedom. It seems many have the wrong view of what marriage really is and should be.
Kevin Charman, UK

Expectations and individual freedoms, long enjoyed by men, are now being extended (quite rightly) to women. However, with neither side prepared to compromise in various aspects of their relationship the likelihood of successful partnerships is dramatically reducing. Unless some form of respectful compromise is reached (and is promoted as "the way to a successful partnership") the situation can only get worse.
John Motture, UK

Don't tell other people they are in the wrong because they don't chose the same lifestyle as you.

Les James, Scotland
People have more choice about their style of life nowadays. In the past it was expected that most people would get married and have kids. I have elderly relatives who still ask the younger members of my family "isn't it time you were getting married" I feel sorry for them, that's the only way they see life.
I think people should do what makes them happy, and if you are so happy you want to tell people how good your situation is that great. But don't tell other people they are in the wrong because they don't chose the same lifestyle as you.
Les James, Scotland

I agree that Britain is becoming increasingly lonelier. People are more likely to move away from their friends, family and communities in the search for jobs. They end up in big cities not knowing anyone and feeling lonely. Home entertainment doesn't do much to encourage traditional social activities either.
Klara Morgan, UK

It is very difficult to say that living alone is a bad thing per se, as everybody has different expectations and needs. However, what is true, is that for most people the family unit is the most suitable and effective way of providing the support you need throughout your life. Unfortunately, not enough is being done to preserve this well-evolved structure, and many would argue that the moral and social decay we have been through in recent years, can be directly attributed to this cause.
Dan Vesty, England

You can do just what you like, go where you like and when you like ... Long live singles.

Tim G, UK
I live alone, and it has both up and down sides. The upside is that you can do just what you like, go where you like and when you like. The downside is no one at home to talk to after a tough day. But these days it seems that so many people are so mercenary about relationships. So many people go into the relationship with the "How much money can I get from this relationship when we divorce" attitude.
As one of my colleges has commented, these days you may as well just find someone you don't like, buy them a house, give them 100k and save all the hassle of the relationship which they aren't prepared to make work anyway. Long live singles.
Tim G, UK

Since women are now more financially independent, they no longer have to rely on men for a life, and therefore are living without us. Basically that's it.
Dennis, Manchester

Many people seem to be so afraid of relying on their own resources.

Sarah, Ireland
Far better to live alone with, hopefully, a good circle of friends and a close family, than live in a relationship for the sake of it. Many people seem to be so afraid of relying on their own resources and relishing time spent alone that they bounce from one unhappy relationship to another without ever learning to survive on their own.
If men and women took more time out to discover themselves and their likes and dislikes they may be in a better position to find a suitable partner and build a more meaningful relationship. Either that or get a cat!
Sarah, Ireland

Abolition of married couples allowance is just a symptom of how little value is placed on encouraging the institution of marriage. I've been married over 20 years but I'm beginning to think that I would be better off if my wife and I "lived in sin".
Peter Haydon, UK

People want their independence far more these days.

Andrew Duncan, UK
It's not something to worry about, it's just the way it is. Women and men are not rushing into marriage as they would have 30 years ago. People want their independence far more these days. When relationships break down two households are created. The single mother thing is another issue which may or may not represent some sort of social breakdown.
Andrew Duncan, UK

See also:

27 Mar 00 | UK
08 Feb 99 | Health
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