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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1996  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1996   
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Contents >> Family >> Living Arrangements: People who live alone

Living Arrangements: People who live alone

In 1995, 11% of adults living in private dwellings lived alone. Older people, particularly women, were most likely to live alone.

The number of people living alone has implications for social policy, welfare and service delivery. It also reflects social changes such as the increase in numbers of divorced and widowed people.

A person's likelihood of living alone is largely determined by their marital status, which in turn is related to their age and whether they are male or female. In 1995, the median age of never married people was 22, compared to 44 for people in a registered marriage or de facto relationship, 46 for divorced people and 73 for widowed people. Because of this relationship between marital status and age, and because young never married people generally live with their parents or in group households, older people have a greater likelihood of living alone.

The numbers and proportions of adults living alone are increasing. In 1986, 1.1 million people aged 15 and over (8.9% of the population) lived alone. By 1991 there had been little change in the proportion living alone. However, by 1995 it had increased to 10.5% (1.5 million people).


Household estimates

The household estimates presented in this review are for 30 June of the reference year and refer to the population aged 15 and over living in private dwellings. The estimates were derived from the estimated resident population by applying factors based on census data to adjust for the population living in private dwellings. This population was then distributed to households on the basis of factors derived from the Labour Force Survey. For more information on the estimation procedure, see Household Estimates, Australia (cat. no. 3229.0).

A private dwelling is a suite of rooms within a building which is self-contained and intended for long-term residential use. To be self-contained, the suite of rooms must possess cooking and bathing facilities as part of the building.

A household is a group of people who usually live and eat together. A household may be a family, a group household or a lone person household, or a household containing visitors only (e.g. a holiday home). A household resides in a private dwelling.

Because marital status affects a person's likelihood of living alone, where indicated in this review data have been standardised to the marital status distribution of the total population at 30 June 1995. The standardised estimates show the proportion of people in a group who would live alone if they had the same marital status distribution as the standard population.


Marital status
Widowed people, followed by divorced or separated people, were more likely to live alone than those who had never been married or those who were currently married. In 1995, 67% of widowed women and 64% of widowed men lived alone. There were almost five times more widowed women who lived alone (414,000) than widowed men (86,000), a consequence of the greater life expectancy of women. This difference is the main contributor to the overall higher proportion of women living alone (11.5% compared to 9.5%).

31% of women and 54% of men who were divorced or separated lived alone. This difference is due to women being more likely to have custody of the children after marital breakdown (see Australian Social Trends 1995, Children in families). While there were over one and a half times as many women as men who were divorced or separated, more of the men (199,000) than the women (178,000) lived alone.

Of people who had never been married, 17% of the men (343,000) and 13% (202,000) of the women lived alone.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE LIVING ALONE

1986
1991
1995
Marital status
%
%
%

Men
7.3
7.7
9.5
    Never married
12.6
12.6
16.6
    Married
0.4
0.4
0.6
    Divorced/separated
45.8
47.1
53.9
    Widowed
59.0
65.5
64.0
Women
10.4
10.5
11.5
    Never married
11.3
10.7
12.7
    Married
0.2
0.3
0.3
    Divorced/separated
25.6
27.5
31.2
    Widowed
62.2
64.0
67.2
All persons
8.9
9.1
10.5
'000
'000
'000
Men living alone
436.1
500.2
651.6
Women living alone
627.8
698.9
806.2
Total living alone
1,063.9
1,191.1
1,457.8

Source: Household Estimates, Australia (unpublished data)


States
There was some difference between states in the proportions of people living alone. In 1995, 13% of people in South Australia and 12% in Tasmania lived alone compared to 9% in the Australian Capital Territory and 10% in the Northern Territory. The proportion of people living alone increased between 1986 and 1995 for all states. The differences between states in the proportions of people living alone reflect the different marital status structures of their populations which in turn reflect their different age structures (see Population - State summary tables).

Standardising for marital status reduced the differences between the states. The standardised proportions of people living alone ranged from 10% in the Australian Capital Territory to 13% in South Australia and 12% in Tasmania. The higher standardised rates in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia suggest that their age and sex structures have an effect independent of their marital status structures.

Differences in the tendency to live alone between capital cities and other areas of the state were small. Proportions were generally marginally higher in capital cities.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE LIVING ALONE, 1995

Population
Standardised rate(a)
State
%
%

NSW
10.1
10.0
Vic.
10.6
10.6
Qld
10.1
10.1
SA
13.0
12.6
WA
10.5
11.3
Tas.
11.9
11.7
NT
9.6
10.3
ACT
9.1
9.8
Australia
10.5
10.5

(a) Standardised to the marital status distribution of 30 June 1995 Australian resident population aged 15 and over living in private dwellings.

Source: Household Estimates, Australia (unpublished data)


Country of birth
The proportion of people living alone varied quite substantially by country of birth. Some of the country of birth groups with high proportions of people living alone (Germany and Poland) also had high median ages (56 and 53 years respectively). In contrast, the Viet Nam born population which had the lowest proportion of people living alone had the lowest median age (33 years).

When standardised for marital status, the proportions of people living alone showed less variation by country of birth. In particular, the standardised figures for the Italian and Greek born populations were 14%, indicating that their likelihood of living alone was similar to that of people born in other overseas countries but that their marital status distributions were different. Both groups had relatively small proportions of widowed people partly because of the tendency for older people in these groups to return to their country of birth (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Emigration).

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE LIVING ALONE, 1995

Population
Standardised rate(a)
Median age
Country of birth
%
%
years

Australia
10.7
10.5
38
UK & Ireland
13.1
14.1
48
Italy
10.0
13.9
58
Greece
6.8
14.0
54
Former Yugoslav republics
9.2
14.3
47
Netherlands
10.3
11.2
52
Germany
16.9
18.6
53
New Zealand
8.7
10.5
37
Viet Nam
4.0
3.7
33
Poland
20.3
18.2
56
Other
7.9
9.1
41
Total
10.5
10.5
40

(a) Standardised to the marital status distribution of 30 June 1995 Australian resident population aged 15 and over living in private dwellings.

Source: Household Estimates, Australia (unpublished data)


Housing
People who live alone are more likely than others to live in flats, units or apartments. In 1994, 28% of people who lived alone lived in such dwellings compared to 12% of all households. The likelihood of living in a flat, unit or apartment decreased with age, from 50% of people aged 15-24 who lived alone to 19% of those aged 55-64, then increased for the 65 and over age group. This is related to older people's circumstances and housing needs (see Housing for older people).

35% of people living alone were renters compared to 28% of all households. The likelihood of renting declined with age, from 79% of people aged 15-24 living alone to 21% of those aged 65 and over. Owners who lived alone were most likely to be aged 65 or over while purchasers were most likely to be aged 35-44. This pattern is similar to the pattern for all households1.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE LIVING ALONE WHO LIVED IN FLATS, UNITS OR APARTMENTS, 1994


Source: Australian Housing Survey, 1994 (unpublished data)


Time use
Among those who live alone, young people spend less time alone than older people. In 1992, people aged 15-24 spent 10 hours 29 minutes alone per day, compared to 14 hours 32 minutes per day for those aged 25-59 and 19 hours 11 minutes for those aged 60 and over. These times include time spent sleeping and on other personal care activities. When people under 60 who lived alone spent time with others, they spent most time with friends, including workmates, almost 10 hours per day for those aged 15-24 and over 6 hours per day for those aged 25-59. They also spent around 2 hours per day with their families. People aged 60 and over also spent about 2 hours per day with their families only, and another 2 hours per day with family and friends.

Young people who lived alone spent more time on social and entertainment activities than older people. Those aged 15-24 spent nearly 3 hours per day on social and entertainment activities, compared to just over 2 hours spent by those aged 25-59 and just under 2 hours by those aged 60 and over. In contrast, older people spent nearly 5 hours per day on passive leisure activities such as watching TV, reading, relaxing etc, compared to just over 3 hours for those aged 25-59 and 1 and a half hours for those aged 15-24. People who lived alone spent less than 1 hour per day on active leisure.

SOCIAL CONTEXT OF TIME SPENT BY PEOPLE LIVING ALONE, 1992

Aged 15-24
Aged 25-59
Aged 60 & over
Total
Social context
hours/day
hours/day
hours/day
hours/day

Alone
10.5
14.5
19.2
16.9
With family only(a)
2.0
1.6
1.8
1.8
With friends only(a)
9.7
6.2
2.0
4.0
With family & friends(a)
0.2
0.5
0.2
0.3
Other(b)
1.6
1.2
0.8
1.0

(a) Administrative, service and shop personnel, crowd or undescribed people may also be present.
(b) Only administrative, service and shop personnel, crowd or undescribed people present.

Source: Time Use Survey (unpublished data)


Endnotes
1 Housing characteristics, costs and conditions (4182.0).

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