Australian Bureau of Statistics
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999
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Family Functioning: Spending Time Alone
AVERAGE WAKING TIME SPENT ALONE AND PROPORTIONS OF PEOPLE LIVING ALONE, 1997, INCLUDING CHANGES SINCE 1992
Who spends the most time alone?
Because of the opportunities to interact with other people at home, people who live with others generally spend less time by themselves than those who live alone. On average, in 1997, people who lived with others spent just over 2 hours per day (14% of their waking time) by themselves compared to just over 10 hours (65% of their waking time) for people who lived alone.
Among those who lived with others, the amount of time spent alone varied little with the age of the person (roughly between one and a half and two and a half hours) with those aged 15-24 and 65 and over spending less time alone than those between these two age groups. However, among those who lived by themselves, the amount of time spent alone increased steadily with age. Among men aged 65 and over who lived by themselves, the average time spent alone per day was 13 hours (83% of their waking time) and among women who lived alone, 12 hrs: 12 mins per day (78% of their waking time). The likelihood of spending large amounts of time alone also increases with age in association with the increased chance of living alone. Among people aged 65 and over 20% of men and 40% of women lived by themselves.
People with moderate or more severe disabilities (most commonly older people) are at greater risk of social isolation than other people. Among those aged 65 and over who lived alone, the average time spent alone was 13 hrs: 31 mins, 85% of their waking hours, and over one hour longer than for the general population in this age group.
AVERAGE WAKING TIME, SPENT ALONE AND WITH OTHERS AND INCIDENCE OF HAVING SPARE TIME, 1997
(b) Persons with a severe, profound or moderate restriction in personal activity.
Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997
Further identifying groups of concern
Spending time alone, even for those who spend large amounts of time alone, is not itself an indicator of diminished life quality in terms of feelings of loneliness or social isolation.2 The simple expectation of having families and friends available to meet with on occasions or rely on when needed may well diminish potential feelings of loneliness. However, a likely symptom of loneliness is the feeling of inactivity or boredom.2,3 One measure of such feelings available from the Time Use Survey is the extent to which people report that they always or often have spare time. The use of this measure in conjunction with time spent alone may be an indicator of the numbers of people who suffer from being alone.
Despite being at least risk of social isolation in terms of time spent alone, young people aged 15-24 were the most likely of all age groups to report that they always or often have spare time, regardless of whether they lived alone or not (13% and 12% respectively). This finding is consistent with other research which has identified youth, along with elderly people, to be most at risk of having feelings of loneliness.3,4
Nevertheless, after the formative years of adulthood, feelings of loneliness (or as shown here, feelings of always or often having spare time) are less common, but increase with age and are higher among older people who live alone, particularly those with disabilities. In 1997, of people aged 65 and over identified as having a moderate or more severe disability, 21% of those living alone and 17% of those living with others felt that they always or often had spare time. These proportions were substantially higher than for the general population in this age group (12% and 5% respectively).
Spending time with others
Whether people live alone or with family members, there is a general desire to spend some of their time with others. Irrespective of living arrangements, the proportion of time spent with people outside the household generally decreased with age. People aged 15-24 who live with others tend to spend more time with non-household members than any other age group (an average of 6 hrs:24 mins a day). Of those living with others, people aged 25-44 (most commonly families with young children, and in which high proportions of men and women are employed) spent less time with non-household members (4 hrs:56 mins per day) than those in the 15-24 year age group. Interaction with others drops off markedly among older age groups when most people have retired from work.
Among people aged 65 and over, those who live by themselves tend to spend more time with friends, acquaintances and other people than those who live with others (3 hrs:17 mins and 1 hr:46 mins respectively). However, those who live with others spend a great deal of their time (on average, 78% of their waking time) with other household members, commonly their husband or wife.
PEOPLE AGED 65-74 YEARS AND 75 YEARS AND OVER: AVERAGE TIME SPENT, WHILE AWAKE, IN DIFFERENT SOCIAL CONTEXTS, 1997
(b) Administrative, service and shop personnel, crowd or undescribed people present
Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.
Social interaction: focusing more on older people
Patterns of social interaction with family and friends change among older people with increasing age. Slightly less time is spent alone among those aged 75 and over than those aged 65-74, irrespective of living arrangements.
For people aged 65 and over, living with their partner, an increasing amount of time is spent with their partner only as they grow older (11 hrs:13 mins per day for those aged 65-74 and 12 hrs:5 mins per day for those aged over 75 years). Among those who live alone, on the other hand, more time is spent with family members who live in other households (relatives, children and grandchildren). On average, people aged over 75 years who lived alone spent over one hour longer per day with family members outside of the household than those in the same age group who live with their partner (1 hr:33 mins, and 31 minutes per day, respectively).
These patterns of social interaction indicate that with advancing age the loss of partners impacts heavily on the amount of time older people spend alone. They also indicate that families living in other households spend more of their time with elderly people when these people are at greater risk of social isolation.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1996, Population Growth and Distribution (cat. no. 2035.0), ABS, Canberra.
2 Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs 1998, Improving Social Networks: Improving Health and Social Isolation in the Australian Veteran Community, DVA, Canberra.
3 Weeks, D.J. 1994, A Review of Loneliness Concepts, with Particular Reference to Old Age, International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol 9, 1994.
4 Wildermuth N.L. 1990, Loneliness in adolescence: why it occurs and what to do about it in Adolescence an Australian Perspective, Callan Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Sydney, 1990.
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