MARK COLVIN: The number of Australians
living alone is set to double over the
next two decades.
A rapidly ageing population, combined
with a rising divorce rate and a trend
towards getting married later, are
bringing radical changes in the makeup
The trend is revealed in the Australian
Bureau of Statistics' latest figures on
And as Andrew Geoghegan reports, the
changes will present significant social
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: The concept of family
is being seriously challenged by the
latest official statistics. It shows
that 1.8 million people were living
alone four years ago.
But cast an eye into the future and the
trend in living arrangements has up to
3.7 million Australians living by
themselves within 21 years. That's an
increase of more than 100 per cent.
Phil Browning is a demographer with the
Australian Bureau of Statistics.
PHIL BROWNING: Some of the reasons for
that relate to the ageing population,
delayed marriage, and also increases in
divorce and separation.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: And if you're not
living by yourself then there's a good
chance that you'll be living as a couple
Phil Browning again.
PHIL BROWNING: The couple families with
children, that's projected to increase
only slowly, or possibly it might even
decrease between 2001 and 2026. And this
population will decrease if we continue
to move away from this type of family at
the same rate of change as we've seen
from 1986 to 2001.
Whereas couples without children,
they're projected to increase quite
rapidly, from 1.9 million in 2001 to
between 2.9 million and 3.3 million in
Now this is related to delaying having
children, as well as the movement of the
baby boom cohort into the older age
groups, where children are likely to
have left home, what you've probably
heard of referred to as the empty nest
sort of phenomena.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: These smaller
households will present significant
Randall Pearce is the General Manager of
the social research firm, IPSOS Mackay.
RANDALL PEARCE: Living on your own,
people see either experience as
aloneness or they experience it as
freedom and independence, so I mean, you
could have a society with a large
proportion of people living on their
own, I guess, on the one hand perhaps
subject to depression, and on the other
hand feeling somewhat liberated and
So it's going to be a bit of a mixed
result there in terms of overall
wellbeing but there are I guess much
more tangible implications arising from
this trend, including how we build our
houses and how we construct
I mean, on the one hand, single people
living on their own will require more
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: But humans are herd
animals and Randall Pearce says that
will mean singles will look for places
where they can find a sense of family.
RANDALL PEARCE: We will seek to
reconnect with the herd if we're sort of
living away from them. So that means
that there will be lots of opportunities
for restaurateurs and people who
organise clubs and activities to attract
these singles as a means of reconnecting
with the herd.
MARK COLVIN: Social researcher Randall
Pearce ending that story from Andrew