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Living Arrangements: People without partners
Recent decades have seen young people defer marriage to increasingly older ages. At the same time there has been an increase in the divorce rate. Consistent with these trends, and with the ageing of the population, there has been an increase in people living alone and in one-parent families. These factors have contributed to an increase in the number and proportion of the adult population who do not have a partner. In 1996, 4.4 million people, 37% of the adult population, were living without partners, up from 33% in 1986. If such trends continue, they will have an impact on the housing market and the provision of home health care. They could also affect the well-being of the population, because many people without partners live by themselves, increasing their risk of social isolation (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Spending time alone).
Age and sex pattern
The likelihood of a person having a partner changes across the life course, with a similar overall pattern by age observed in 1986 and 1996. In the youngest age group, 18-24 years, most people were without a partner, but beyond that age people without partners were in the minority. The proportion who were without a partner was lowest in age groups in the range 35-54 years. The proportion increased again in older age groups which include many widowed people.
The proportion without a partner was higher for men than women in age groups under 35 years, partly reflecting the tendency for men to marry at older ages than women (and hence to be somewhat older than their partners). In the oldest age groups, a greater proportion of women than men were without partners, due to the longer life expectancy of women and the fact that their male partners are on average somewhat older.
Between 1986 and 1996 the proportion of people without partners increased in each age group under 55 years, for both sexes. However in older age groups it increased among men but decreased among women. This may partly be because the difference in life expectancy between males and females has decreased, particularly at older ages (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Health: national summary table).
In 1996 there were about 1.3 million people aged 18-24 years who had never been married. They made up 30% of all people without partners. Another relatively large group were widows aged 65 years and over (about 0.5 million, 10% of all people without partners). These groups strongly influenced the marital status pattern of people without partners. Of all people without partners, 71% of men and 48% of women had never been married. Almost 25% of all women without partners were widows, compared to 6% of all men.
In the youngest age group, almost all of both men and women without partners had never been married. In the age group 25-34 years this was true of 74% of women and 87% of men. From age 35 years for women and 45 years for men divorced people made up a larger proportion of those without partners than did those who had never married. In the age group 65 years and over, being widowed was the most common marital status, particularly among women (79% of women and 48% of men).
In the youngest age group, living with parents was the most common living arrangement for both men and women without partners (65% and 57% respectively), followed by living with other related and/or unrelated individuals (27% and 29%). At this age, 7% of those without partners lived alone, but in the age group 25-34 years just under 23% lived alone. The proportion living alone was higher in each subsequent age group, and was highest in those aged 65 years and over (71% for both men and women).
A major difference between men and women without partners was that almost a quarter of the women were lone parents compared to 5% of the men. This difference was most apparent across the ten-year age groups in the range 25 to 54 years. Men without partners in this age range were correspondingly more likely than women without partners to be in other circumstances, such as living with parents, living alone, or living with other people.
Men without partners tended to be less well off socio-economically than men with partners. After adjusting for their different age profiles, men without partners were less likely than those with partners to have a post-school qualification (44% and 52% respectively) and a bachelor degree (10% and 12% ) or to work in high skilled occupation (58% and 67%). They also had a lower labour force participation rate (68% and 77% respectively) and a higher unemployment rate (14% and 7%). Of those employed, a greater proportion of men without partners had a relatively low income (less than $200 per week) than men with partners, while a smaller proportion had a relatively high income (greater than $800 per week). Men without partners were also more likely to live in rented accommodation than those with partners (36% and 25%).
On several indicators, women without partners appear better off than those with partners. For many indicators, the difference between women with and without partners was less marked than that between men with and without partners. Women without partners were more likely than women with partners to have a post-school qualification (38% compared to 36%) and a bachelor degree (12% and 10%). Compared to those with partners they also had a higher labour force participation (58% and 55%) and if employed they were more likely to be in the higher income group (greater than $800 per week) than those with partners and less likely to be in the lower income group (less than $200 per week). However, they were more likely to be unemployed (5% compared to 11%) and if employed, they were less likely than women with partners to be in high skilled jobs (51% and 54%). They were also much more likely to live in rented accommodation than women with partners (39% and 22%).
After adjusting for their different age profiles, people born outside Australia were slightly less likely to be living without a partner than Australian-born people (34% and 37% respectively). Among broad regions, those born in the Middle East or North Africa had the lowest proportion of people without partners (30%). The proportions of those born in Europe and the former USSR (32%) and Southern Asia (33%) who were without partners were also somewhat lower than the proportion in the total overseas-born population. Proportions for people born in other regions ranged from 35% (Northern America) to 38% (South-East Asia).
PEOPLE WITHOUT PARTNERS AS A PROPORTION OF POPULATION, BY BIRTHPLACE GROUP(a)
In various population-based health surveys in the 1990s, people without partners scored worse on several measures of health status than did those with partners, after adjusting for differences in their age profiles. This was true of both men and women. For example, in the 1995 National Health Survey, people without partners were less likely to rate their own health positively than those with partners. However, the degree of difference was relatively small, because the majority of people tend to rate their own health positively.
According to the 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, people without partners were more likely to have a disability (broadly defined to include diverse disabling conditions). They were also more likely to have a disability that caused a core activity restriction than those with partners.
Further, the 1997 Survey of Mental Health and Well-being showed that the prevalence of mental illness was higher among people without partners than people with partners. This was true of the three broad types of mental illness covered: affective disorders (such as depression), anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. Out of these three types, the difference in prevalence between those with and without partners was highest for substance use disorder, for both men and women.