Going solo suits some.
Going solo suits some. Contributed

Living alone

A new study conducted by Professor David de Vaus, executive dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Queensland, has found 14 per cent of Australian adult women live alone, as do 12 per cent of men, and the number is on the rise.

In the past 20 years the number of adults living alone has almost doubled, and this upward swing is increasingly common in all developed economies. But while the numbers are on the rise, there has been a shift in just who is likely to fly solo.

"From 1986 to 2006, the age profile of the population that lived alone changed substantially," says Prof de Vaus.
"During this time, young people in their twenties and older people in their sixties and seventies became relatively smaller groups of the living alone population, while those in their forties and fifties, and those eighty years and older, became relatively larger parts of the group.

"The sharpest increase was among people aged 30-59 with, overall, women more likely than men to live alone.
"Overall, living alone for people aged under 50 is substantially a male phenomenon, while over 50 it is largely a female arrangement."

Prof de Vaus says this can be attributed to a variety of factors, including widowhood, divorce and women's increased capacity to provide for themselves.

But if the idea of women living alone brings to mind images of sad and lonely spinsters, think again. Prof de Vaus says when it comes to living alone, women enjoy it more, are better at it, and are more likely to view it as a positive experience.

"Generally people of both sexes are happy living alone, but women are the happiest.

"For women it seems that living alone means they have fewer caring responsibilities, fewer demands on their time, and women have a much greater capacity to create social networks outside the home," Prof de Vaus says.

Vicki, 64, of Shaws Bay, has lived alone, by choice, for 14 years. When asked what she most enjoys about living alone, she is emphatic.

"Freedom, freedom, freedom, is what I most enjoy," she says.

"After having happily raised four sons and working full-time for many years (she still works full-time), I find the freedom of not having to be so structured and committed to family responsibilities, such as cooking and housework, is great. If I don't feel like doing these things, I can choose not to.

"I like the freedom of being able to come and go when I want. And not having to check in with anyone if I'm invited somewhere, if I want to go out or to socialise, visit my grandchildren, or to just sit and watch my favourite TV program.
"The freedom of not having to consider the schedules of a partner allows me to make the best use of my time and my own choice of activities. I realise this can be interpreted as 'selfish' and is probably so, but I enjoy the contrast from living in a family of six to a unit of one. I have never experienced loneliness, I would say more that it is solitude that I enjoy.

"Of course there is a downside to living alone. Nothing is perfect

"An unexpected downside for me was when I did some travelling in a small group. Others were calling home to say they had arrived safely and it hit me that there was no one who really needed to know this about me. I did have a pang of regret. It was just another learning experience - I guess it's the ying and yang of the 'freedom factor'."

Vicki says while she enjoys living alone, she makes an effort to stay connected with others.

"When I first started to live alone, I made a conscious decision to make regular contact with friends," she says.

"It's funny for me to say after I 've just said how much I love to live alone, but I am a 'people person'; I love being with people and believe that is the best way to spend time.

"I went to Melbourne in the early days of living alone, and had dinner in a restaurant by myself. It was the first time I had done this. On returning home, I made myself do this again to overcome my attitude that a woman eating out alone could look 'odd'.

"I have no problem going to the movies, or going interstate alone. I visit Melbourne whenever I can to attend the ballet or other shows.

"At this stage of my life, I actually like being at home alone as I am at work all day in a busy job."

For Vicki, living with someone else in the future is still an option, but it would have to be the right person.

"It took me a long time to realise what that really meant. I would most likely have difficulties in 'checking in' again with socialising, and I would find it hard if that person didn't have his own interests and was 'under my feet' all the time.

While I would be committed to another, I would not be happy to live with someone who expected me to look after them. I would need a balance of dependence and independence to make it a successful step."

Prof de Vaus says this is a common experience.

"Women have spent so long looking after other people that living alone can be a welcome break, whereas for men the experience can be more difficult."

When he separated from his second wife three years ago, John, 58, of Casino, found living alone challenging.

"I hated it," he says bluntly. "It's not that I expect to be looked after, well, maybe I do, but I just like having a woman around.

"I was miserable when my marriage broke up, living alone. So I moved in with a bloke in a similar situation, but that didn't work, so I moved into a caravan park because that gave me contact with people other than the blokes at work."

John says not wanting to live or be alone was a factor in his decision to marry for the third time.

"It's just better for me to live with someone than by myself."

Prof de Vaus says the difference between men and women's experiences is not uncommon, but on the whole the experience is viewed as a positive one.

"Living alone 'decomplicates' things," Prof de Vaus says. "People have work demands, complex family arrangements and people's roles within families are more complicated and aren't always clearly defined. For many people living alone just simplifies things."

Simplicity is one of the things Janet, 52 of Wollongbar, finds appealing about living alone.

After spending the last four years caring for her elderly parents, she now lives alone. Prior to living with her parents, Janet lived alone for eight years.

She says she enjoys the freedom it allows her.

"I can do what I want, when I want, without having to be concerned about anyone else," she says. "Living alone has actually made me less sociable. I have become very protective of my space.

"But I do I keep up with regular engagements, like Friday drinks with the girls, and I make sure I have plenty of things to read.

Janet says the idea of living with someone again is not something she sees in her future.

"I have become so protective, possibly selfish, of my own space I cannot imagine having to share it again without having resentful feelings when I had to compromise," she says. "Conversely, I don't really want to grow old alone."

Prof de Vaus says this internal conflict is common.

"We all tend to want what we don't have, and there is that internal tension for all of us, wanting to belong, wanting to be needed, versus wanting to be independent. We never get the balance 100% right. That's why it changes."

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