There are a lot of perks to solo living: the freedom to be messy, no arguments over what to watch on the TV, but a new survey released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found living alone can make some feel less satisfied with life.
Currently, a quarter of Australian residences are single households – an increase from one fifth of households in the mid 1980’s. The survey of over 10,000 households found not only that people who live alone feel higher levels of loneliness, it's men who feel it most.
Drawing on data from The Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) and Living Alone in Australia surveys, researchers took a three-pronged approach, examining social connection, health behaviours and subjective wellbeing.
While 16 per cent of people living with others felt lonely, 26 per cent of solo dwellers reported feelings of loneliness often.
Women tended to make more efforts to increase social connection within the first year of living alone.
“People living alone were less satisfied with their lot in life,” Senior Research Fellow Professor David de Vaus said in a statement. “Overall, almost a quarter of those living alone rated their health as below average, compared to 17 per cent of those living with others but interestingly, there was no difference in mental health.”
People also experienced solo living differently. “Some people value the independence and autonomy that living alone gives them, while others may find the use of social media helps to keep them in touch with others.”
Men who live alone were more likely to feel sustained loneliness compared to older women living solo, who felt lonely in the short-term.
“The study found loneliness and lower life satisfaction levels were more evident among men who lived alone, than women, who typically adjusted more quickly to changing circumstances,” said de Vaus.
“Loneliness increased more sharply for men when they started to live alone than it did for women who appeared to ward off loneliness by increasing their involvement with friends and family.”
Active memberships in community organisations rose slightly for women living alone compared to a decrease in the male cohort.
Overall, women tended to make more efforts to increase social connection within the first year of living alone. For example, active memberships in community organisations rose slightly for women living alone compared to a decrease in the male cohort.
Men in solo households were also less likely to adopt healthy habits. “Men who live alone are more likely to drink fairly heavily, defined here as consuming at least five to six standard drinks at a time,” said study co-author Senior Research Fellow Dr Lixia Qu. Although it’s worth noting these habits were for the most part a continuation from life in a shared housing arrangement.
While unsurprising, the results highlight the importance of addressing the issue of loneliness, which previous research has shown to increase the risk of illness and mortality, especially in elderly people. The good news: companionship and maintaining a connection with a network with family and friends can do a lot to reduce these negative effects.