Using census statistics and data tracking the lives of more than 150,000 individuals in England and Wales since 1971, researchers led by Malcolm Williams, of the University of Plymouth, found a significant increase in those living on their own. The study predicts that this trend will continue.
According to the latest statistics, the population has grown by five per cent over the past 30 years, but the number of households with just one occupant is up by 31 per cent.
In their late teens and early 20s, either sex is just as likely to live solo before setting up home as a couple, says the report. But between the ages of 25 and 44, men are more prone to going it alone.
If a man's relationship breaks down, he is more likely to change to a lone existence, whereas women tend to live as one-parent households. For women, the transition to solo living comes mostly in their 40s and 50s, as their children leave home or as their relationships with partners dissolve.
The study reveals that the percentage of those aged between 15 and 44 in 1971, who lived alone and reported being permanently sick, increased at each census from 0.4 per cent in 1971 to 12 per cent in 1991, due largely to ageing. Up to the age of 34 the likelihood of reporting permanently sick was extremely low, but after 35 it grew steadily.
There was also a growing overall tendency for people who live alone to report permanent sickness. In the age band 25 - 34, the percentage doubled between 1971 and 1981, and among those of 35 44 there was a similar rise at each census between 1971 and 1991. For the 45 54 age band, it also doubled between 1981 and 1991.