Elderly people are less likely than those in any other age group to suffer burglary. Glenda Cooper looks at a survey which provides a unique snapshot of our life today.

Living in a household where there are one or two elderly people over the age of 60 carries a much lower risk of burglary than any other household, according to a survey.

The preliminary results from the 1996 General Household Survey show that the burglary rate was 23 per 1,000 households compared to 55 per 1,000 where adults and children live. The survey also revealed that the burglary rate has fallen from 4.6 per cent in 1993 to 3.3 per cent in 1996.

"There is a popular view that elderly people living alone are more likely to be vulnerable but they are less likely to be burgled," said Paul Hunter, the survey's principal researcher.

Those living in detached houses were also less likely to be burgled than their neighbours in semi-detached or terraced houses. Those most at risk from break-ins were those living in private rented accommodation or those in social housing.

A spokesman for Age Concern said: "The reason why elderly people suffer less burglaries is that a lot of burglaries occur during the day when people are out, but older people tend to be in.

"But it should be reassuring for older people who can sometimes feel vulnerable and have a fear of crime. There is also a misconception that older people are likely to be attacked in the street but statistically young, single men are much more at risk. The one exception is bogus callers where people impersonate officials. We would warn old people to take care. Keep the chain on until you are sure who the caller is."

The survey also looks at the way households have changed over the 25 years since it was first carried out. While the proportion of lone parent families rose steadily through the 1970s and 1980s it is levelling off in the 1990s. However, 21 per cent of families are now headed by a lone parent compared with 8 per cent in 1971.

The most common type of household is a married couple with no dependent children. One in four women now choose to cohabit rather than get married, and the average family has 1.8 children.

Snapshot of a changing britain

One in five families are now headed by a lone parent.

One in four women live with a partner rather than marrying.

The number of people owning CD players has more than doubled in the last five years.

Seven out of 10 households have a car or van compared to half in 1972.

Two thirds of households now own their homes compared to just under half in 1971.

In 1996, 69 per cent of all adults had an educational qualification, compared to 41 per cent 20 years earlier.

More than one in five men and women say they have a limiting chronic illness - double the proportion in 1972.

Nearly two thirds of us take part in some physical activity.1 Three per cent of households were burgled in 1996, down from 4.6 per cent in 1993.