Women are happier living the single life than men

Men are lonelier living on their own than women and less likely to appreciate the freedom and lack of compromise it brings, research has shown.

The number of people choosing to live alone has almost doubled in the past 30 years with the shift most significant among men. The total of males under 65 living alone has tripled since 1971.

A study published today reveals that 96 per cent believed living alone had become a rite of passage though the majority did not expect it to be a long-term situation - which perhaps goes some way towards explaining the success of Bridget Jones's Diary. Sixty-four per cent of women thought it was good to have their own place before settling down and so did 48 per cent of men.

The reality is that many have been forced into the situation, usually after separating from a partner or becoming widowed. Particularly among older males, they are no longer willing to live with parents and their friends are likely to be settled with their own families.

More than one third of households are now single occupancy, compared with barely one fifth 30 years ago while the percentage of the population living solo had more than doubled from 6 to 13 per cent.

The result is a cultural shift that not only fuels claims of a "non-family" society but potentially throws up problems in later life with pensioners not having a live-in carer.

The Unilever Family Report 2005, which questioned 1,142 people aged 25 to 44, found that men generally found living alone harder than women, and are less likely to say it is their choice. Fifty-six per cent of males said they were sometimes lonely compared with 48 per cent of females.

This may be because women are more likely to see friends and family frequently. Thirty-eight per cent of women said it had a positive impact on their relationship with their family compared to 26 per cent of men.

In a definite move away from the original nuclear family, more couples are opting to stay in separate properties with a third saying it helped their relationship and a quarter wanting to remaining that way indefinitely. Some people have simply decided that they prefer the independence of living alone.

The phenomenon stretches across all social stratas, from the most affluent to the poorest though the increased cost of living makes it a tough option for lower income groups.

Fifty-five per cent of those surveyed said it had a negative impact on their finances, with rent and bills taking up a higher proportion of their income.

Despite the increasing trend in living alone, many look forward to a more sociable set up. Of the 25-44 year-olds interviewed, 77 per cent said that the most likely reason they would change their current arrangements would be to move in with a partner.

'I would sell up for Mr Right'

Katie Marshall. Single householder. 30

Katie Marshall has an indulgently girlie bedroom because she knows that living alone means she can get away with it.

"My bedroom is very, very pink. Everyone takes the mickey. But I know if I ever married or moved in with someone, there is no way I would be allowed to have a pink bedroom," explained the 30-year-old marketing executive.

Four years ago, having lived with her mother to save money, Miss Marshall bought her own one-bedroom house in Surrey.

"I like being my own boss. I have independence and freedom to do as I want when I want," she explained.

Nevertheless - like many young people in the survey - she hopes that one day she will meet someone enticing enough to give up her solo status.

"I would find it very hard giving my place up after four years. It would be a risk. Having been independent, it would be quite a big thing but if I met the right person I would want to go into it whole heartedly - sell up and hope it would work.

"The fear would be that if something went wrong and I found myself not being able to afford to get back on the property ladder. So I would be very cautious above moving in with someone."

There are disadvantages, she concedes - particularly a lack of companionship in the evenings and the pressure to handle every single household problem alone.

However, it has made her increasingly sociable, more likely to make arrangements with friends and family.

"I am quite proactive about making plans. I would probably be at home a lot more if I was living with someone. But I am not sitting at home worrying about it. If it happens, it happens."

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