In the so-called ‘developed world’, the number of people who live on their own has skyrocketed to unprecedented heights, with the biggest jump found in men and women aged 35-44.
In Britain in 1974, there were only 148,000 single occupant households in this age group. By 2013, that had increased to an astonishing 1.2 million. It’s the same picture in the USA, Japan and several countries in western Europe.
The rising divorce rate is a major factor here, but censuses show that many people in this age group who live alone do so purely as a matter of preference. Changes in economic conditions and social norms also make it more possible for people to do it these days.
That’s fine. But there is also a suggestion that middle-aged singles are much more susceptible to premature death than those who live with others. Definitive figures have yet to emerge, but this worrying notion has cropped up in several meta-analyses (a meta-analysis is a ‘survey of surveys’, in which the analysts group together a large number of existing studies and try to extrapolate trends from them).
At the conclusion of one recent meta-analysis, which covered 70 different studies involving three million people over the past 30 years, the researchers went so far as to say that “heightened risk of mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity.” They even predicted that in the not too distant future, we may well encounter a “loneliness epidemic”
The moral of the story seems to be, if you want to live on your own, go ahead. But if that’s your path, you really should make a positive effort to maintain and even expand your network of family, friends, activities and acquaintances. Don’t be a stranger!