Singles at risk from drinking and suicide

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The Independent Online
Being single in Britain in the 1990s means a miserable existence which can lead to heavy drinking, depression and even suicide, according to new research published today.

Singles also work harder - compounding their social problems - and are less healthy through their reliance on mainly convenience foods, the report claims.

In a final ignominy for Britain's singles, it emerged last night that even supermarkets, which had been identified as the most likely setting for meeting a new partner, are leaving singles on the shelf.

Asda, which had turned 100 stores into evening dating agencies hosting regular singles nights, said yesterday that the events had been stopped.

The singles nights had given the unattached a chance to put some romance into their shopping by meeting prospective partners at wine-tastings or at sales promotions of instant meals.

Antony Shephard, 40, a business consultant, turned up at one such event at an Asda store in Bedminster, Bristol, and met Emily Lane, a 23-year- old student. The couple are now married with a baby girl.

Mr Shephard said: "Everything changed for both of us that night in the supermarket aisles. We know lots of attractive, charming people who are single and tell us that they just can't meet the right people. Our advice is: `Get down to the supermarket'."

Sadly, that route out of a solitary existence is no longer open.

Phil Reed, an Asda spokesman, said: "We don't do the singles nights anymore. It kind of petered out. There is not much point in doing them on a regular basis anymore because most of the people who would come to them have already been."

The news is the latest blow to a group which was once one of the most envied sections of society: the young, free and single. The Singles Market in 1996, published by Market Assessment Publications, says there are currently 19.2 million households in all, a figure that is likely to rise to 22.7 million by 2011 - and this will be almost entirely due to an increase in single person households.

Currently there are 10 million singles, which include the elderly widowed and divorced, those who have chosen not to marry or live with anyone, and three-quarters of these - 7.5million - are under under 35.

The trend towards more single households is caused by a number of factors including delaying marriage, delaying parenthood, the rising divorce rate and higher life expectancy.

In 1984 the average age for getting married was 26 for men and 24 for women; now the averages are 29 and 27 respectively. Similarly, in 1971 some 47 per cent of women had given birth to a child by the age of 25 -- a rate which has plummeted to 26 per cent now.

The report claims that many single people spend their time alone in their room with only a video for company.

Their diet consists mainly of takeaways and ready meals rather than fresh fruit and vegetables. Explaining the new approach of supermarkets, the report says singles tend to prefer night shopping and impulse buying at forecourt shops and they drink and smoke more than people with partners.

One in three single women smoke, compared with fewer than 23 per cent of married women. Equally, 33 per cent of single men smoke against 26 per cent of married men or those co-habiting. Since 1972, the rate of suicide for single males has risen by 60 per cent. The report claims: "Research shows that marriage is a preventative measure to suicide."

The trend towards singles has also led to the setting up of more than 100 dating agencies across Britain, serving up to 10,000 people each.

Dr Neil Frude, a psychology lecturer at the University of Wales, said that couples were often less depressed than singles because they always have someone to listen to their problems.

"People who have never married are less happy than married people," he said. "If you have people around you it makes you psychologically stronger, and if you've got a partner you've got a resident therapist.

"Married people don't drink or smoke as much either - which proves that nagging can be good for you."

The sad plight of the singles is even more worrying in view of the widespread belief that more and more people will nevertheless choose to live alone.

Professor Richard Scase, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at Kent University, told a conference in London last week that by the next century Britain could become a nation of single people.

He said that 4.4 million housing units were needed over the next 20 years but 80 per cent of them would be for people who wanted to live alone. By 2030, one in three men are expected to be single.

The pattern of living alone is being compounded by advances in technology which allow people to work, shop and exercise without going outside their front doors.