It's human nature to want to be around and interact with people – we're social animals. So, why, for the first time in history, are greater numbers of people living alone and settling down by themselves? This isn't just specific to the UK – in the US, the number of single person households increased from 17% in 1970 to 27% in 2012.
Many view living alone as leading to the fragmentation of society, but it doesn't have to be. Living alone can teach you a lot about yourself, and contribute to a very happy and fulfilling life.
We decided to look into just how many people are living alone, the factors encouraging it, and why it doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Data published by The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2015 revealed that the number of people living alone between ages 45-64 has increased by 23% over the past decade, reaching 11.8 million within the UK.
According to the results, men make up the majority of the 4.1 million (58%) between the ages of 45-64 living alone. However, of the 7.7 million single-person households in 2015, women made up 54% of them, while men made up 46%.
Single-person households account for 1 in 3.5 within the UK.
At the same time, it should be noted that many of these studies can have misleading results. The ONS study from a 2011 consensus defines being single as anyone who wasn't married, even if in a relationship or living together.
So, seeing as the statistics highlight how common it is to live alone, what is encouraging the change and why is it considered a bad thing?
Several factors seem to be contributing to the transition towards single person households.
Decades ago, it was traditional to meet someone, get married and stay together. Divorce was taboo and quite frowned upon, so even if you were unhappy, you would stay married. Research in 2012 from the ONS found that 42% of marriages end in divorce.
Now, people are deciding to get married later or not at all. Divorce is so common it isn't an issue at all. If you're unhappily married, it's considered strange to stay in an unhappy relationship. In fact, there's more pressure to focus on your own happiness and well-being.
Social media is a phenomenon which has completely changed how people communicate. Social networks allow people to stay connected with family and friends even when they are by themselves, without having to physically be in the same place. This takes away as much need to live with someone, as you can stay in contact no matter where you are.
People are living longer than they have before, and women can live many years longer than their spouses. On average, men's life expectancy in the UK is 79.5, while women's is 83.2. Ageing alone is therefore relatively common nowadays.
Whether or not this causes loneliness amongst the elderly depends on several factors – some believe that being alone affords them the opportunity to invest in themselves, enjoy hobbies and make friends in their community.
People often associate being alone with loneliness, when this isn't the reality. Studies have shown that it's the quality of interaction, not how much of it you have, that determines how lonely you feel.
If anything, living alone can teach you a lot about yourself and help you become a more content person by finding out exactly what you want and like, without worrying about someone else.
Of course there are people who live alone that worry they have made the wrong decision, or are missing out on being happier by living with someone else. But this is true of married couples too – many wonder if they would be happier single and living by themselves.
The problem is, the rise of the single person household is a relatively recent social change, so the impact on society is yet to be determined – it could lead to both extremes, from more socially active people who make an effort to see people, to the breakdown of communities and social isolation.
Overall, research has shown that more people are choosing to live by themselves, for several reasons including cultural changes encouraging people to put their happiness first and decide what they want to do for themselves, and the fact that modern communication methods mean you don't need to be in the same place as someone to stay in contact and be social.
This doesn't mean that living alone is the same as being lonely – the quality of social interaction usually counts more than how much of it you have.
Ultimately, living on your own can be just as fulfilling as living with friends or a significant other. It entirely depends on your own situation and circumstances, but the reality is that more and more people are living on their own. However, the impact that this is due to have on society is yet to be seen.
Last updated on Thursday 5th October 2017