Pathways into living alone in mid-life: diversity and policy implications

Adv Life Course Res. 2013 Sep;18(3):161-74. doi: 10.1016/j.alcr.2013.02.001. Epub 2013 Mar 4.


This paper adopts a life course approach to investigate the pathways into living alone in mid-life in Britain and how these vary by gender and socio-economic status. The rise in the proportion of people living alone over the past three decades has been well documented. However, much of the focus of the existing literature has been on either people living solo in young adulthood or in later life. Mid-life has received surprising little scholarly attention, despite the fact that living arrangements in mid-life are changing rapidly, and that household composition and socio-economic circumstances in the period immediately prior to retirement are strongly associated with living arrangements and associated sources of support in later life. This paper therefore aims to fill this gap. We begin with a review of previous research on living alone and present a conceptual framework of the pathways into living alone in mid-life. Data from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Survey (UKHLS) are used to analyse the partnership and parenthood histories and socio-economic characteristics of those currently living alone in mid-life. The findings indicate that the dissolution of a marriage with children is the dominant pathway into mid-life solo-living, but that there is also a substantial group of never partnered men living alone. These never partnered men are split between those with low and high socio-economic status. Distinguishing between different groups of individuals living alone in mid-life is important for policy as these groups of men and women will have different social and financial resources as they enter later life. Mid-life men living alone who have not had children, have no educational qualifications, are not economically active and who live in rented housing are likely to be most at risk of needing a social and economic 'safety net' in old age.

Keywords: Baby-boom cohort; Living alone; Mid-life; Partnership trajectory; Pathways; Policy implications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Housing / trends
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Policy
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Social Class
  • Social Isolation*
  • United Kingdom