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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 13:25 GMT
Portrait of the 'meal for one' society
Bridget Jones
More people than ever in the UK are living alone, government statistics have found. One in three households now have just one member, compared to one in five at the start of the 1970s.

But that is just part of the picture, for along with the shift to single-living have come a number of other ways society has changed.


The increase in single-occupancy properties has naturally had an impact on housing supply, says a spokesman for the National Housing Federation. This has meant more flats being built, or houses being converted into flats. But the impact may also have been felt on house prices generally. "There's such an under-supply of affordable housing in many parts of the country that anything that restricts the supply is going to have an effect on prices," he says.


Ready meals

Nearly half the meals eaten in the UK are now eaten alone, research found last year. In the past 20 years, the number has soared from 4bn to 12bn, much of which is due to the explosion in "meals for one". One analyst said: "We have reached the situation where people no longer even buy dining tables because they have effectively become redundant." Half of all the money spent on ready meals in the EU is spent in the UK, a report last year found, with Brits shelling out 7,000 a minute on them.


The term metrosexual, usually applying to men who live in the city, love the style of urban living, care a lot about their appearance, and have the disposable income to indulge their passions (clothes, entertainment, technology, restaurants, nightclubs, low cost airlines, adventure holidays, alcohol). The female equivalent is, according to author Sasha Cagen, is the "quirkyalone" - women who celebrate being alone, and "resist the tyranny of coupledom".


Bridget Jones is just the tip of an iceberg. Forget mainstream family entertainment, the words of books, films, and television now cater more than ever for the type of folk who live alone. The trend still has legs (with the second Bridget Jones film yet to be released), but with the passing of Ally McBeal and Sex and the City, its days may be numbered.


The team from TV dating advice show Would Like To Meet
But the generation of people living alone is getting inventive about how to meet partners. As well as the ever-growing phenomenon of internet dating, you can meet potential dates by speed dating (where you spend just seconds with a loser before moving on to someone else), dating in the dark (where you don't find out how ugly people are until you've got to know the real them) and quiet dating (where you must write down what you want to say, if you are happy to be judged by your handwriting).


Man eating alone
It's not all bright young things, however. One factor which is behind the increase in single-living is the break-up of relationships. Research indicates that by 2011, more than 60% of marriages will end in divorce. But with an increase in life expectancy for men, more of them will outlive their partners. By 2020, the percentage of men over the age of 60 living alone is expected to be about 30%. Ikea is just one of the firms cashing in on the growth in people living alone - it famously encouraged people who were disillusioned with their partner to make a fresh start (and buy a flat-load of Swedish furniture and knick-knacks in the process).

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

If so many people are living alone, why are we then subjected to extortionate prices when travelling solo. Not everyone wishes to go on a package holiday. Especially when you do pay a single supplement and get the broom cupboard overlooking the carpark!
J. Jones, UK

So much for us sixties types who thought we would be living in communal settings. Perhaps people are less forgiving of a partner's faults and quirks these days than in the past. Polygamy and polyandry could become the vogue. You get tired of one, move on to the next, or you get them all ganging up on you.
Nick Bell, US

I love being single and have never viewed it as a second-best situation. I enjoy living on my own as I can choose when I want company, What I do hate is:
- the fact that property (especially new-build) is squarely aimed at "couples" on dual incomes and that single people are expected only to aspire to a 1-bed flat with no garage. It's very hard to afford a flexible property on a single income now;
- the fact that supermarkets think that people only cook from scratch for families of four and singles only need ready meals. Try buying one portion of mince for a chilli when there's only one of you! Not least because I've been there and done it, I'd have to think very hard before moving in with someone again.
Mark Antony, England

We are probably all guilty of looking for Miss World or Mr Universe in our potential dating conquests - without too much regard for the underlying personality. Then again it is hard to get to talk to somebody in a crowded bar with booming music!
Jake, Wales

This article was spot on. I am single, live on my own and now all my darkest thoughts are confirmed. Misery...
Chris McCahill, Britain

I love living on my own, and seeing as I have such a small flat, wouldn't have it any other way. I love the feeling of being able to listen to the music I want, eat when I like and stay up all night writing if I so choose. I don't miss co-habiting or sharing with a group of friends, because catching up with your man/mates is what going out's for. As for that misery guts Bridget Jones you've got at the top of this article, she should relish her time alone while she has it. Oh, and join a gym instead of subjecting us to her calorie intake.
Emerald, London, UK

I agree with this article. I am 31 years old and live alone. I do not have a dining room table and I believe that I am still single because no one understands me except IKEA.
Jamison Maeda, United States

But Ikea is a store that is designed for couples! Try paying for a shed load of stuff and leaving it by the very crowded pick up area while getting the car.
Shaun, UK

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