Questions continue to be raised about the possible impacts of living alone on the prevalence of social isolation and loneliness in society.
Statistics Canada has released a study that looked at the Canadian population living alone, using data from both the Census of Population and the General Social Survey on Family. Here’s some of what they found.
In 2016, for the first time, one-person households became the most common type of household in Canada, surpassing couples with children. One-person households accounted for 28% of all households in 2016, representing 4 million Canadians.
As the prevalence of this living arrangement has grown over time, the population that lives alone has become more diverse. Solo dwellers also have different socioeconomic, housing and family characteristics, depending on their age and whether they live alone by choice or by circumstance.
More men and divorced or separated people live alone today than in the past
From 1981 to 2016, the share of men who lived alone increased for nearly every age group. As a result, the gender gap in solo living has narrowed, particularly among seniors aged 65 and older. In 2016, men accounted for 32% of seniors living alone, up from 23% in 1981.
This development is mainly the result of longer life expectancy of men in recent decades, which has resulted in proportionally fewer senior women living alone as widows.
Although living alone is more predominant among seniors, the relative prevalence of living alone has increased most rapidly among people aged 35 to 64 in recent decades. In this age group, the proportion of those living alone increased from 8% in 1981 to 13% in 2016.
In this age group, men were more likely to live alone than women, reflecting in part the increasing rates of union dissolution that have led to more men living alone for a period of time following a divorce or separation.
These demographic shifts have also changed the marital status profile of the population that lives alone. From 1981 to 2016, the share of people living alone who were widowed decreased (from 33% to 22%), while the share of those who were divorced or separated increased (from 21% to 31%).
One in five people living alone reside in a condominium
People living alone have different needs and preferences for housing compared with people living with others. Overall, one in five people living alone resided in a condominium in 2016, either owned or rented.
The increased supply of condominiums over the period may be associated with the rise in homeownership for those living alone. From 1981 to 2016, homeownership rates increased from 32% to 50% among solo dwellers.
Among those solo dwellers who owned their homes in 2016, 28% owned condominiums, compared with 7% in 1981.
Housing affordability, however, can be an issue for many people living alone. In 2016, 41% of one-person households had monthly shelter costs considered not affordable (that is, representing 30% or more of their average monthly household income), compared with 17% of other households.
Most people who live alone previously had a partner and have at least one child
Almost three-quarters (72%) of people living alone aged 20 and older had previously lived as part of a married or common-law couple, and over half (55%) had at least one child.
Among solo dwellers aged 35 to 64 who had a dependent-aged child from a previous union, 74% indicated that they contacted their child at least once a week, and 59% indicated that their child lived with them for some period of time in the previous year.
In addition, one-third of young adults (aged 20 to 34) living alone in 2017 were in a “living apart together” relationship, meaning that they were in a couple with someone residing elsewhere.
Among young adults who were living alone and not in a couple relationship, most stated that they were open to living in a common-law union in the future (72%), that they intended to marry in the future (60%) and that they intended to have a child (67%) someday.
Link between living alone and indicators of well-being such as life satisfaction and self-rated health
Individuals living alone reported lower levels of self-rated health, mental health and satisfaction with life overall than people living with others. It is important to note that indicators such as life satisfaction and self-rated health also depend on other factors, such as family relationships, social networks and socioeconomic characteristics.
Among adults aged 20 and older who were living alone, 61% reported that they were satisfied with their lives, compared with 72% among those living with others.
That difference, however, was smaller among senior women, where 72% reported high levels of life satisfaction, compared with 78% among those who were living with others.
By contrast, among senior men, 62% of those living alone reported that they were satisfied with their lives, compared with 76% of those who lived with others.
More can be found in the study titled “Living alone in Canada.”