From today's Herald:
Millions more to live alone as population ages
Date: June 09 2010
Kirsty Needham SOCIAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT
A RAPID rise in the number of people living alone will lead to 1.7 million more single-person households in 20 years, the Bureau of Statistics has projected.
Couples without children are set to overtake the nuclear family as the most common family household within three years.
As the number of households reaches 11.8 million nationally in 2031, a rise of 4
million homes from 2006, lone person households will rise 91 per cent.
Couples with children are the dominant family household now but by 2031 - if present trends are maintained - will drop to only 2.5 million households as the number of couples without children rises to 3.8 million.
''Mum, dad and the kids are down to one household in five. Over 50 years the shift has been quite profound,'' said KPMG demographer Bernard Salt. The rise in single-person households was caused by an ageing population, he said.
''These are not young, sexy singles living in Pyrmont but sad, lonely, old baby boomers - the widowed, separated and divorced. I'm not sure if Sydney is ready for an army of single old people living in suburbia disconnected from the community,'' he said.
[...] Lixia Qu, a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said the trend for more people to live alone could be seen internationally.
The steady decline in marriage, increase in cohabitation and in divorce rates since the 1960s had created a much larger pool of single people with more fluid living arrangements. Living alone was often short term, as people moved between relationships or left marriages.
''Financially, people are more able to live alone than in the past. Community attitudes have changed,'' said Ms Qu.
Rapidly changing social expectations are starkly seen in the living arrangements of 25- to 29-year-olds. In 1991, 34 per cent of this group lived as a couple with children, but this will fall to only 7 per cent by 2031.
And the bureau predicts 28 per cent of 25-29-year-olds will still be living with their parents by 2031. The decline in women under 30 having children contributed to this age group staying longer in the parental home, Ms Qu said.
''Life has been postponed. Leaving home is not just a one-off any more. If their job doesn't work out, or relationship doesn't work out, they go home again,'' she said.
The projections assume the rate of change the bureau observed between 1991 and 2006 will continue. But Ms Qu said the forecast might not be borne out. The fertility rate had leapt again and was 1.9 per cent, which was relatively high.
Her research had shown more young Australians were interested in marriage again. ''We shouldn't say it is the end of the family … they still see marriage as the way to go.''