People living on their own spend an average of 92% of their disposable income, compared with two-adult households who spend only 83% of theirs, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis of the expenditure of 25- to 64-year-olds.
People living alone are more likely to be renting, and feel less financially secure than couples without children, with fewer reporting they have money left over at the end of the week or month.
And the costs are not just financial: when it comes to well-being, those living on their own report lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety than those living together with a partner and no children1.
Living alone set to increase
More and more of us in the UK are living alone. The number of people living on their own went up by 16% to 7.7 million between 1997 and 2017, while the UK population increased by only 13%. By 2039, the number of one-person households is projected to rise to 10.7 million2.
The rise in the number of people living alone is largely concentrated in older age groups. While the number of people aged 25 to 44 living alone has fallen by 16% between 1997 and 2017, the number of 45- to 64-year-olds living on their own has increased by 53% over the same period.
This increase is partly due to the large number of children born in the 1960s reaching this age, but may also be down to a change in our relationships: more people in this age group are divorced or single than there were 15 years ago.
Who is living alone?
The variation in life expectancy between the sexes – with women typically living longer than men – naturally creates more one-person households among the older population. If we concentrate on those aged 25 to 64, we can see that most of those who live alone (60%) are men. At younger age groups, this is more pronounced, but the gap between the sexes narrows as age increases.
Gap between the sexes narrows with age
Proportions of one-person households by age and sex, UK, 2017
Of those who live on their own, people in their late 50s and early 60s are the most likely to be divorced (42% of 55- to 64-year-olds). However, more than one-third (34%) of this age group have never been married, and being single (never married) is the most common marital status for all other age groups.
Marital status varies with age
Proportions of one-person households by marital status and age, UK, 2017
People living alone less likely to own their home
Those aged 25 to 64 who are living alone are less likely to own their home than couples without children (50% of households compared with 75% respectively in 2017), giving them less opportunity to accumulate wealth through buying their home or paying off a mortgage. We see the disparity at all age groups, and the gap in home ownership between one-person households and couples widens with age.
Those living alone less likely to be homeowners
Proportion of households who own their home, by age and household type, UK, 2017
One-person households spend more of their income on housing costs
For both one- and two-adult households, housing costs are the biggest expense. However, whether they rent or own their home, the burden of housing costs is greater for one-person households. People aged 25 to 64 who live alone spend a greater proportion of their disposable household income than two-adult households on rent, mortgages and other housing costs, including energy bills, water and Council Tax.
People living alone spend more on housing costs than those who live with another adult
Proportion of household disposable income spent on housing costs, by household type, household reference persons aged 25 to 64 years, UK, financial year ending 2018
Two-adult households spend more on recreation and transport
Aside from housing costs, people living on their own spend a greater proportion of their income on food and drink and furnishing their home. But they spend less than two-adult households on clothes, transport and leisure activities (recreation, restaurants and hotels).
One-person households spend more on food and furnishings
Proportions of disposable income spent on selected goods and services, by household type, household reference persons aged 25 to 64 years, UK, financial year ending 2018
Perhaps as a result of spending more of their income on housing costs, bills and food, those who live on their own are among the least financially secure household types. Around half (51%) of those who live alone say they always or mostly have money left over at the end of the week or month, compared with nearly two-thirds (64%) of those who live with their partner. The financial costs of living independently may explain why the number of younger people (aged 25 to 44) living alone is falling.
People living on their own may find it harder to build up savings. Of those living alone, 35% say they would not be able to make ends meet for more than a month, compared with 14% of couples without children.
Living alone and personal well-being
The costs of living alone are not just financial. It appears that on all four measures, one-person households have the lowest well-being of all household types. When measuring personal well-being, people are asked four questions:
- “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”
- “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?”
- “Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?”
- “Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?”
Well-being lowest for those who live alone
Average ratings of personal well-being (out of 10) by household type for people aged 25 to 64 years, UK, 2017
While this may paint a negative picture for those living on their own, it is not clear that people’s living arrangements are directly associated with their personal well-being. It may be that some of characteristics that tend to go with living alone, like being divorced, or renting your home, may have more of an impact – as we have observed before.
- This article compares adults aged 25 to 64 living alone with those living together with another adult. This analysis does not include those living with dependent children.
- Based on combined household projections for England (Office for National Statistics), Wales (Welsh Government), Scotland (National Records of Scotland) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency). Projections are 2016-based, except for Wales which are 2014-based.