This paper sheds further light on living alone by investigating the nature of living alone and what it means to the individuals involved.
In an earlier Australian Family Trends facts sheet (No. 6; de Vaus & Qu, 2015) we described those who live alone and how the rates of living alone have changed both in Australia and internationally. We saw the way in which living alone is linked to gender, age, marital status, marital separation, widowhood and measures of advantage and disadvantage. These factors influence levels of living alone in that they create a pool of people available to live alone. This paper sheds further light on living alone by investigating the nature of living alone and what it means to the individuals involved. In particular, we consider the duration for which people live alone; that is, whether living alone is a short-term transition between more enduring living arrangements or a long-term alternative to family living arrangements. Rather than simply mapping whether or not people live alone, we will put living alone within the context of a person's life course. By seeing where living alone "fits in", we should be in a better position to understand what it means.
We also explore the more subjective side of living alone. In particular, we describe some of the cultural values that underlie living alone and the extent to which people like living alone. What reasons do people offer for living alone? Do they live alone because they value the things it can promote - independence, privacy and a certain degree of freedom? Or do they live alone because of circumstances such as the requirements of their work or the lack of a partner? How do people experience living alone? Would they prefer to be living with someone?
This paper draws on two large-scale national surveys. It draws on 12 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) longitudinal survey and tracks people as they move into and out of lone living arrangements. In so doing, it identifies types of living arrangements both before and after living alone, and shows the duration of periods of living alone. The paper also draws on the 2008 Living Alone in Australia Survey2 to provide a window into the more subjective aspects of living alone.