In the so-called ‘developed world’, the number of people who live on their own has skyrocketed to unprecedented heights, with the biggest jump found in men and women aged 35-44.

In Britain in 1974, there were only 148,000 single occupant households in this age group. By 2013, that had increased to a surprising 1.2 million. It’s the same picture in the USA, Japan and several countries in western Europe.

The rising divorce rate is a major factor here, but censuses show that many people in this age group who live alone do so purely as a matter of preference. Changes in economic conditions and social norms also make it more possible for people to do it these days.

That’s fine. But there is also a suggestion that middle-aged singles attempt more premature deaths than those who live with others. Definitive figures have yet to emerge, but this worrying notion has cropped up in several meta-analyses. (a meta-analysis is a ‘survey of surveys’, in which the analyst’s group together a large number of existing studies. Try to extrapolate trends from them).

At the conclusion of one recent meta-analysis, which covered 70 different studies involving three million people over the past 30 years, the researchers went so far as to say that “heightened risk of mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity”. They even predicted that in the not too distant future, we may well encounter a “loneliness epidemic”

The moral of the story seems to be, if you want to live on your own, go ahead. But if that’s your path, you really should make a positive effort to maintain and even expand your network of family, friends, and activities. Don’t be a stranger!


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