For the first time in Canada’s history, living alone is the most common type of housing arrangement in the country, surpassing couples with children for the top spot.
According to a study titled “Living Alone in Canada” published in Insights on Canadian Society, one-person households made up up 28 per cent of all Canadian households in 2016. That amounts to roughly 4-million people living alone, which is more than double the 1.7 million people who lived alone in 1981.
Nora Galbraith, a senior policy analyst with Statistics Canada and one of three co-authors of the report, said it’s not a surprise to see single person households on the rise. Canada is just following a common trend among industrialized western countries. However, she said the type people living alone has changed.
“It’s certainly not a surprise that the population living alone is growing, but what was interesting was to see how the characteristics of this population has really evolved over the last several decades,” Galbraith explained. “We’ve found in this study that the population living along is more likely to be male than in the past, more likely to be separated or divorced, and they’re a lot younger age profile than they were in the past as well.”
There are a number of reasons for the change. Galbraith said the rise of young professionals, who put off finding a partner and having children to focus on their career, has helped drive down the age of the average one-person household, as has the number of separations and divorces, which heavily impact the fastest growing demographic of one-person households: adults ages 34 to 64.
Separation and divorce are also listed as reasons for the rise in men living alone, as is increased male life expectancy. Meanwhile, senior women are one of the few demographics where the number of one-person households decreased.
“The profile of seniors living alone is really changing rapidly and there’s some evidence that senior men might be a little less well-equipped to handle the challenges of living alone, as compared to senior women,” Galbraith said. “They seem to be more likely to experience social isolation, maybe have more difficulties making connections outside the home, so that could be a growing issue in the coming years.”
The biggest change brought about by the rise of one-person households may be housing prices and rental rates. People who live alone are more than twice as likely to have unaffordable shelter costs, something Galbraith said could become a prominent issue as the trend continues, especially considering young people who live alone almost always live in urban areas.
“Housing affordability seems to be more of an issue for this population,” she explained.
While individuals living alone do report high rates of social isolation and loneliness than those who don’t, the report’s authors say it’s not necessarily true that living alone is the cause of those issues. According to the data, many people living alone, especially young people, view the decision as a temporary one, while roughly one-third of solo dwellers were in a relationship with someone they did not live with. People living alone also have high education and labour force participation rates.
“Living alone should not be assumed to cause loneliness or social isolation since the relationships between these phenomena are complex,” the report reads. “Other correlated characteristics such as age, martial status, economic situation and cultural setting may play a more instrumental role in an individual’s well-being.”
Quebec is the “Living alone Capital of Canada” with 18 per cent of the population living in a one-person household, the highest rate among any province or territory. In Saskatchewan, roughly 14 per cent of people live alone, which is roughly in line with the national average.