UK – Family splits leave millions to face their later years alone

Family break-up, divorce and the decline of marriage are producing millions of lonely middle-aged Britons.

There is a ‘considerable increase’ in numbers living alone and facing an old age without the help and support of children or partners, according to a report from the Office for National Statistics.

It suggested one in ten men and one in five women are on their own by the age of 60.

Alone: More older people are now living on their ownAlone: More older people are now living on their own

The good news for the middle-aged is that they are much more prosperous than counterparts in the past. They have the benefits of better education and longer careers than their parents and grandparents, and the great majority own their own homes.

The findings were set out in an analysis by the ONS that charted the lives of people aged between their mid-40s and mid-60s. It said that longer life expectancy means the middle-aged are more likely to have a parent or even a grandparent still alive.

Late marriage and the rise of two-career couples, however, means fewer have children than in the past.

‘More people in mid-life, particularly men, are now living alone,’ the report found.

‘This may be related to the fact that fewer people in mid-life are married, and more are divorced.’ But those who do have families are more likely to reach their 50s and 60s with their children still around the house and in need of support and subsidy.

Family: But many are now opting out, leaving them alone in middle ageFamily: But many are now opting out, leaving them alone in middle age

The findings were based on evidence from several sources, including the long-running independent British Household Panel Survey of the lives of 7,500 people, and the ONS’s own General Household Survey.

The spread of education – and in particular the vast increase in numbers of well-educated women – means that around a third of both men and women in their early 50s have a degree or equivalent.

Two thirds of all men and nearly half of all women are still holding down jobs in their late 50s and early 60s, employment rates that have been consistently rising over the past 25 years.

More than eight out of ten middle-aged people are homeowners, around a third more than in the early 1980s, when the right-to-buy movement was upgrading scores of thousands of council tenants to owner-occupier status.

The other side of the homeowning coin is that while in the early 80s a third of middle-aged people lived in council homes, the proportion in social housing is now down to one in ten.

But unfortunately for middle-aged parents, their children may not enjoy the same security and prosperity.

Numbers of young homebuyers are falling, the report said, and ‘it is currently unclear whether these young people, as they themselves reach mid-life, will ultimately become homeowners’.

Later marriage and childbirth means ‘there has been a shift from living with young children from the 20s and 30s to early middle age. Furthermore, among the middle and old aged, there has been a considerable increase over time in the proportion living alone.’ 

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Office for National Statistics

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