Two's a crowd: Living alone in New Zealand

Two’s a crowd: Living alone in New Zealand explores the socio-economic characteristics and social well-being of New Zealanders who live alone, using data from the 1986–2013 Censuses and 2014 New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS).

In 2013, 11 percent of New Zealand’s population, or 355,000 people, lived alone.

Age, marital status, income, household tenure, and ethnicity are the key characteristics that contribute to the likelihood of living alone. Nearly half of people living alone were aged 65 or older. Most of them were separated, divorced, or widowed. People living alone were more likely to own their homes; they were also likely to be women.

In terms of social well-being, living alone has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, people who lived alone reported lower life satisfaction and felt lonelier than those who lived with others. On the other, they were less likely to have been victims of crime. Despite our usual perceptions, living alone does not necessarily mean a person is socially isolated. Our findings show that people who lived alone had higher rates of face-to-face contact with family and friends than those who lived with others.

Living alone has implications for the individual and society in general. While many people live alone because they have to (due to personal circumstances such as divorce or the death of a partner), for others it is a lifestyle choice. This report shows that within the single category of ‘living alone’ there is great diversity in people’s socio-economic and demographic characteristics and their social outcomes.

 

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Purpose

Living alone is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common around the world. In many countries like Sweden, the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, more than one-quarter of all households have just one resident (Klinenberg, 2012). In New Zealand, the proportion of people who live alone is relatively low in comparison, but the number has been increasing since 1986 and is projected to continue to grow.

Despite the increasing incidence of people living by themselves, we do not yet fully understand why they choose to do so. Increasing numbers of people who live on their own have implications for the well-being of individuals and society as a whole, so there is much interest in understanding who lives alone and why. For the public sector and the service agencies that provide support to those who live by themselves, living alone is a trend of increasing concern and interest. The lifestyle comes with financial inefficiencies that may adversely affect a person’s economic outcomes. People who live alone may also be at greater risk of social isolation, which can have negative impacts on their social outcomes.

Key Results

Although the number of people living alone in New Zealand has steadily increased since 1986 (from 204,000 to 355,000 people in 2013), the proportion has changed little since 2001.

  •  Age, marital status, household tenure, and ethnicity are some of the key characteristics of people who live alone.
  •  Majority (63 percent) of people who lived alone were divorced, separated, or widowed.
  •  In 2013, the median age of people living alone was 62 years. In comparison, the median age for the total population was 38.
  •  Living alone was more common for women than men: women made up 57 percent of those living alone.
  •  Pacific peoples and Asians were less likely to live alone than people of other ethnicities.
  •  Six out of 10 (62 percent) people who lived alone owned or partly owned their own home. In comparison, only 50 percent of those who lived with others owned or partly owned their own home.
  •  Living alone has advantages and disadvantages in terms of social well-being.
  •  People living alone (59 percent) were less likely than those living with others (64 percent) to report an overall life satisfaction rating between 8 and 10 on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 is the lowest and 10 the highest level of satisfaction).
  •  People who lived alone were more likely than those not living alone to say they had felt lonely, at least occasionally, in the last four weeks (50 percent compared with 34 percent). This was true for both men and women regardless of age.
  •  People who lived alone had higher levels of face-to-face contact with family living in other households (61 percent) than those not living alone (51 percent).
  •  People who lived alone were less likely to be victims of crime: 11 percent of those who lived alone had been the victim of crime in the last 12 months, compared with 14 percent of those living with others.

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