Britain in 2020: Lots of singles, fewer children, more pets, rural retirement

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It is the year 2020 but Britain is back in the world of Upstairs Downstairs. We are once again a nation of masters or servants as growing numbers of domestic staff help overworked executives organise their lives.

By the early 21st century, one in three of us will be living on our own and the number of divorced people will almost double. We will produce fewer children but own more pets and 50 per cent more of us will be over retirement age.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of us will live in the country, far from the deprivation of the inner cities.

For the first time the Office for National Statistics has predicted how our lives will alter over the next three decades as part of its annual Social Trends report. This provides a "biography of the nation" with a wide range of information about the social policies and the changing face of British society.

The biggest growth in jobs, by almost half a million over the next decade alone, will be in personal and protective services. Nannies, domestic help, hairdressers, nurses and catering staff will all become increasingly popular careers.

The next largest group will be managers and administrators, growing by almost 10 per cent. As working hours continue to increase - with both men and women already working an hour longer per week than they were 10 years ago - the need for help at home will become increasingly attractive for those who can afford it.

Professionals and sales assistants will also see their numbers swell, while the number of clerical and secretarial workers diminishes - victims of the technological revolution.

In the next decade, the labour force is projected to grow by 1.4 million, with women accounting for 1 million of the rise. By the year 2006, women will make up 45 per cent of the labour force. Many, however, will take the growing number of part-time jobs. While total employment is predicted to grow by 3.5 per cent between 1996 and 2001 and by 2.7 per cent between 2001 and 2006, there will little change in the number of full-time employees.

Away from work, the 21st-century family looks set to alter dramatically. The traditional image of the married couple with two children, beloved of politicians, has already slipped away and the trends are predicted to continue. The proportion of divorced people will almost double in the three decades to 2020. For those who do tie the knot, the proportion will fall from 57 per cent in 1992 to 49 per cent in 2020.

Single Britain will be the reality. By 2016 there will be almost 24 million households in England, 23 per cent more than in 1991, and more than one in three will consist of people living on their own.

The findings predict that the population will grow to 61.2 million by 2023. From then on, deaths will exceed births. Women's decision to have fewer children, at an older age, will result in 15 per cent fewer children, while 50 per cent more of us will be over the retirement age.

In our older years we will be moving into the countryside, to middle- class retirement areas located far from the inner cities.

"One of the most striking trends in this year's edition [is] the population growth in rural areas," said Alyson Whitmarsh, one of the report's authors. "About one-fifth of the population of Great Britain now lives in rural areas."

Depressingly, we will live longer, but in sickness, not in health. While life expectancy continues to grow - for a boy born in 1992 life expectancy is 73.7 and for a girl 79.2 - healthy life expectancy has fallen since the 1970s. Both sexes can currently expect around 60 years of life without some form of debilitating illness

"If future trends change in unforeseen ways ... then reality may turn out to be very different from the picture painted," warns Tim Harris, another of the authors.

"However, it is fairly safe to conclude that the United Kingdom will have an ageing population".

t Social Trends 27 is available from The Stationery Office, price pounds 37.50

Trivial pursuits - the nitty-gritty of everyday life

Half of men in their early 20s still live with their parents; a third of women do.

One in 10 young men always does the washing-up, against three in 10 women.

Half of women workers worked for a woman, against 10 per cent of men.

Half of households own pets. In 1995, we owned 7.2 million cats, 6.6 million dogs, 1.4 million budgerigars, 600,000 guinea-pigs and 30 million fish.

Death-rates from heart disease halved between 1972 and 1995 for men aged under 65.

Average households spent pounds 2.12 on the Lottery each week, with 70 per cent participating.

To purchase what pounds 1 could buy in 1961 you would now have to spend more than pounds 11. The most common adult author lent by libraries was Catherine Cookson; for children it was Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

The number of bottle-bank sites increased from 17 in 1977 to 13,000 in 1994.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach remains Britain's most popular tourist attraction.

Half of girls in England and Wales gained five C-grade GCSEs or above in 1994-5, compared with two-fifths of boys.

British residents took 59 million holidays of four nights or more in 1995, an increase of 43 per cent on the number taken in 1971.

Four in 10 offenders in England and Wales in 1995 were aged between 14 and 20.