Once people start living alone, how likely are they to continue living alone? Sometimes people think that having a place of your own is something temporary, a way to live until you find a partner with whom you can share a home.
But in 2004, a study showed that 1-person households are very stable. People who live alone one year are very likely to continue doing so in subsequent years.
Fifteen years later, in 2019, a team of Canadian researchers again looked at the stability of living alone. Jianye Liu and his colleagues analyzed data from surveys conducted between 1996 and 2010. The participants were 6,675 Canadians between the ages of 35 and 59, all of whom were living alone when they were first recruited into the survey. The researchers tracked the participants for 6 years, to see whether they continued to live alone.
As in the earlier study, the social scientists found that living alone is a very stable arrangement. Three-quarters of the participants (75.7%) continued to live alone for all 6 years.
Of all those people who started out living alone, who was especially likely to continue to live alone?
- The longer people had been living alone when they first started the study, the more likely they were to continue living alone. There are many possible reasons for this. One is that they enjoyed having a place of their own and had no desire to live any other way.
- All the participants in the study were middle-aged (35 to 59), but within that age range, the older people were more likely to continue living alone than the younger ones.
- Single people were more likely to continue living alone than married people. If you are wondering how the result could possibly be otherwise, you are probably thinking that all married people live together. They don’t. Sometimes they have to live apart for reasons such as job opportunities (including seasonal work), educational pursuits, and military service. Other married couples live apart because they want to, in the arrangement known as LAT, or “living apart together.”
- Women who are living alone are more likely than men to continue living alone.
- People who are living alone in an apartment are more likely to continue living alone than are people who are living alone in a single, detached house.
One factor that had nothing to do with continuing to live alone was income. People with more money were no more likely, and no less likely, to continue living alone than people with less money. The authors suggested that income could have contradictory implications. On the one hand, people with more money may be more attractive as marriage partners, making it more likely that they will marry and live with a spouse. On the other hand, people with more money are more likely to be able to afford to live alone if they want to do so.
The number of people living alone at any one point in time has been increasing for decades. Any stigma associated with it seems to be dissipating. As the authors suggest:
“…solo living has become widely accepted in the western societies as an available option in the living arrangements. Not only has it become socially acceptable, but it also corresponds to values associated with privacy, independence and autonomy.”