In ten years, Britain will be a nation of loners

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The Independent Online

Women in their fifties who work from home, live alone and can choose to become mothers for the first time will, by 2010, have the greatest influ-ence on our society, say economic forecasters.

Women in their fifties who work from home, live alone and can choose to become mothers for the first time will, by 2010, have the greatest influ-ence on our society, say economic forecasters.

Highly educated women who aresick of the "glass ceiling" and lack of personal flexibility in big organisations will set up businesses, becoming the frontrunners of the entrepreneurial economy. This vision of the future is revealed in a report published today, which was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Foresight Programme.

The report, Britain Towards 2010 , also shows that the number of additional homes required by 2010 will be about five million, most of which will be filled by people who choose to live alone, in part driven by the increasing number of divorces and cohabiting couples splitting up.

Britain Towards 2010 alsopredicts a widening of opportunity between the prosperous majority and an excluded minority and says that good quality parenting will become the cornerstone of the information age. Children growing up with middle-class parents like Duncan and Kim (see panel above) can look forward to unprecedented freedom and choice. They will have access to computers at home and at school, and will have a head start in the personal and creative skills that will be most valued in their age. But low income, insecurity and the lack of qualifications in other families such as Craig's and Maria's puts their children at risk of the same alienation as their parents and a lifetime of being in the informal economy of casual jobs and black market goods.

"The quality of parenting is bound to assume even greater importance in tomorrow's economy," said Richard Scase, professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Kent and author of the report.

"Most parents will be using the technologies to work flexibly from home, but the existing 'long hours culture' at the office will prove hard to break down. Cheap televisions in children's bedrooms and the spread of computers will mean that there are fewer shared family activities such as eating together."

In the next 10 years birth rates will fall. With increasing life expectancy, that will lead to an ageing population. The numbers of people under 25 will fall while those over 50 will increase rapidly.

A rising trend towards early retirement for those who can afford it will mean unprecedented numbers of people who have lots of money and lots of time. Their fifties will become a launch pad for 30 years of enjoyment and self-indulgence.

Their company pensions and voluntary severance packages will give them the spending money for travel, home improvement and personal fitness. Adult-oriented rock and new country and western are likely to be the dominant music of commercial radio stations appealing to the "young" fifty-year-olds. Likewise the themes of film and television drama will increasingly capture the lifestyles of those who were seen in the past as "old" and therefore uninteresting.

"At present ... the leisure and entertainment industries are oriented towards young people. Future growth opportunities are likely to arise from the lifestyles and spending preferences of the middle-aged," Professor Scase said.

Most single professional people will choose to live in the cities, where life will be very different. Urban decline will have been reversed and the fear of crime, which restricts many people's movements, will have been reduced because of technologies that allow people immediate access to the police.

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