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Characteristics of people who live alone

We identify the characteristics of New Zealanders who live alone. Doing this can help answer the following questions:

  • Is living alone driven by losing a partner (widowhood)?
  • How much does marital separation affect the rates of living alone?
  • At what ages are people more likely to live alone?
  • Are women more likely to live alone?
  • Are people who live alone financially stable, and live alone because they can afford to?

Multiple regression analysis (a technique used for predicting the unknown value of a variable from the known value of two or more variables) found four key characteristics associated with people living alone:

  • marital status – divorce, separation, or widowhood can force people to live alone; they do so because of personal circumstances
  • personal income – some people choose to live alone because they can afford to do so; they live alone by choice
  • ethnicity – people whose ethnicity does not accept the practice or lifestyle of living alone will tend to live with others rather than by themselves
  • housing tenure – people who own or partly own their own home may prefer to live alone.

Many older people live alone

The likelihood of living alone increases with age. Of those who lived alone in 2013, nearly half (44 percent) were aged 65 or older (65+), including 25 percent who were 75 or over (75+). At the other end of the spectrum, only 10 percent of people who lived alone were under 35 years, including 3 percent who were aged 15–24 (see table 2 in the 'Available files' box).

In 2013, the median age of people living alone was 62 years, while that for the total New Zealand population was 38. In general, the median age of people who lived alone has changed little since 1986 (64 years) (see figure 2 in the ‘Available files’ box).

Figure 2

Graph, median age of people living alone, 1986–2013 Censuses.

Living alone associated with marital status

Many people live alone due to personal circumstances or life changes, such as a change in marital status. Of the 355,000 New Zealanders who lived alone in 2013, almost one-third were widowed (30 percent), one-quarter (24 percent) were divorced, and 9 percent were separated (see figure 3). In comparison, most people who lived with others were either married or have never married (including those never in a civil union).

Figure 3

Graph, Marital status of people living alone, 2013 Census.

People aged 15–24, whether living alone or with others, were more likely to never have been married (see figure 4). For people aged 25–44, the proportion of living alone and never married (79 percent) was twice that of those living with others and never married (40 percent). Choosing to marry later in life may be a reason for this – in 2014, the median age at first marriage was 30.2 years for men and 28.7 years for women, up from 27.5 and 25.5 years, respectively, in 1994.

Marital breakdown was one reason why the growth in the number of people living alone was concentrated in the 45–64-year age group. Separations and divorces were a significant component of the living alone population: half of those aged 45–64 and more than one-quarter (27 percent) of those aged 65+ were separated or divorced. In contrast, most people aged 45 years and over (45+) who lived with others were married.

The death of a partner was most likely to affect older people – nearly 60 percent of those aged 65+ who lived alone were widowed.

Figure 4

Graph, Marital status, by age group and whether living alone, 2013 Census.

Total personal income of people living alone less likely to be low

People who lived alone were less likely to have low personal income: only 7 percent of those who lived alone had a total personal income below $10,000, compared with 21 percent for those who lived with others (see figure 5).

The range of total personal income for people living alone was more likely to be between $10,000 and $35,000. People living with others were more likely to have a total personal income above $35,000.

The median total personal income of both people living alone and not living alone was in the $25,001–$30,000 income bracket.

Figure 5

Graph, Total personal income of people living and not living alone, 2013 Census.

Ethnicity plays a role in likelihood of living alone

Ethnicity contributes to the likelihood of a person living alone – norms sometimes affect living arrangements, and for some ethnic groups, living alone is not common practice.

NZ European and Other European were the ethnic groups with the highest rates of people living alone (13 percent and 10 percent, respectively). Māori followed at 9 percent. Pacific people (3 percent) and Asian (4 percent) had the lowest living-alone rates (see figure 6).  

Figure 6

Graph, Percentage of population living alone, by age group and ethnicity, 2013 Census.

Most people living alone are homeowners

Six out of 10 (62 percent) people who lived alone owned or partly owned their own home. This is higher than that for those living with others (50 percent).

People who live alone may acquire their own house at a later age than those who don’t live alone. More than half of those aged 45–54 who lived alone owned or partly owned their own home (see figure 7). The same proportion occurred for people living with others, but at a younger age group (35–44). A possible explanation to this is that sharing financial obligations makes it easier to buy a house.

Figure 7

Graph, Own or partly own usual residence, people living and not living alone, by age group, 2013 Census.

Older women more likely to live alone

The age profile of women who live alone is different to that of men. On average, women who lived alone were significantly older than men who did so. In 2013, 51 percent of women aged 75+ lived alone, compared with just 25 percent of men (see table 8 in the ‘Available files’ box). Conversely, just 20 percent of women under 55 years were living alone, compared with 28 percent of men.

Living alone was more common among women than men. In 2013, 12 percent (204,000) of women aged 15 years and over (15+) lived alone, compared with 10 percent (151,000) of men. Of the 355,000 New Zealanders who lived alone, 57 percent were women.

Likelihood of living alone increases with age

Overall, the chances of living alone increase as both men and women grow older. For example, 6 percent of men aged 25–34 were living alone in 2013. By age 55–64, this had doubled to 14 percent, and then rose to 25 percent at age 75+ (see figure 8).

The rates of living alone increased more sharply for women than for men in the older age groups. The gap was largest in the 75+ age group. Younger women were less likely than men of the same age to live alone. From age 45 onwards the likelihood increased, and by age 55 years and over (55+) the likelihood was much higher than for men. By 75+, 51 percent of women lived on their own. The difference in longevity between men and women may be a factor. In 2012–14, life expectancy at birth was 83.2 years for females and 79.5 for males (Statistics NZ, 2015).

Figure 8

Graph, People living alone, by age group and sex, 2013 Census.

People living alone less likely to be employed

The proportion of people employed (both full-time and part-time) was higher for those living with others than those living alone (66 percent compared to 48 percent) (see figure 9). 

Figure 9

Graph, Labour force status of people living and not living alone, 2013 Census.

Both men and women who lived alone were less likely to be employed full-time (49 percent and 31 percent, respectively) than men and women living with others (62 percent and 40 percent, respectively, were employed full time). This difference can be partly explained by the age profile of those who live alone – a large proportion are old enough to be entitled to superannuation and are no longer working.

Younger women who lived alone were more likely to be in the labour force than women who lived with others. One-quarter of women aged 15–24 who lived alone were not in the labour force, compared with 40 percent of women of the same age group who lived with others.

For middle-aged men (45–64 years) who lived alone, 62 percent were employed full time, compared with 78 percent of men who lived with others. A further 24 percent of men who lived alone were not in the labour force, compared with 13 percent of those who lived with others.

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