Living alone in a larger property makes no sense.
Much is written about the ‘ageing’ population and the effects of living alone on well-being and health. In fact, it was one of our motivations when starting Cohabitas, to try to give people an alternative future through re-organised housing – shared housing. The positive health and social benefits from living with others in ‘later life’ are widely reported and we wanted to capture that.
But what about people aged 40-64? In many cases they already face the same financial and social issues as ‘the old’ and more almost certainly face these in future.
In some cases, the need to consider ‘alternative living arrangements’ is not planned. It arrives suddenly in the form of separation, divorce and sometimes an all too early bereavement. Many people find themselves living alone when that was not the plan.
So, it is with thanks to Annamarie at Sharing Housing in the US, that I was alerted to an article in the New York Times about the growing number of Gex-Xers and Boomers living alone, often in houses that are too big for their needs.
The article points out that many people in their 50s and 60s thrive whilst living alone, but others do not. House sharing and co-living are for those that do not thrive, and of course for those that cannot afford to live alone. That number is growing.
UK trends – Marriage and Living arrangements
Spurred into action, I consulted the England & Wales census data 2021 to look at the Marriage Status and Living Arrangements of adults aged 40 to 64 – our main focus at Cohabitas.
Compared to 2002 there are now 2.2 million (+ 53.3%) more households in the UK where the resident is aged 40-64 and never married, is now divorced or is already widowed.
This has contributed to more people aged 40-64 living alone in the UK too. There are now 4.8m households a 32.6% increase since 2002 where the resident is living ‘outside of a married or civil partnership couple’ (with or without children). Civil partnerships and same-sex marriage may have enabled more couple households, but the trend is unmistakable.
US marriage trends
Similar trends can be seen in the US. The New York Times article, entitled ‘As Gen X and Boomers Age, They Confront Living Alone’, outlines how there are more over 50’s living alone these days and that the number continues to grow. More than 60% of adults living by themselves are women. This is partly due to life expectancy, but also changing attitudes to marriage and gender; far more women now have financial independence and increasingly have home ownership.
The need to downsize or move home
One point seems to be key in the article. Because the existing housing stock consists mainly of larger households, and building zones also encourage the construction of further larger homes, the cost of smaller residential homes has grown disproportionately.
This has led to many single adults occupying 3-bedroom properties alone. They don’t want to leave the area they know and love, but this ‘luxury’ of living alone presents it’s own problem for the owner, as they cannot afford to live there longer term.
On a positive, this does provide a clear role for house sharing in later life; as well as for when you’re in your 40s and 50s. House sharing offers a win/win, for the homeowner and their guest. It provides additional income and social company to the owner, so reducing the pressure to downsize or move away, whilst the lodger can have access to a larger home, often in a better neighbourhood and enjoy a much lower living cost than if living alone.
Home owners with larger homes offering rooms to those looking for a home is a good short-term solution, but in the longer-term building more purpose-built co-living would be a better.
Purpose-built co-living and shared living spaces can capture lower living costs and social benefits, whilst at the same time providing residents with enough privacy and sense of place. If ownership is a concern, especially for homeowners wishing to maintain an invetment in property, then this might be organised.
Scaling the benefits of house sharing will mean more people can find reasonably priced accomodation but that will require a change in the stock of housing in most established societies. Marital patterns and changes in gender roles means more non couple-focussed housing is required. The trends will continue to create pressure and will offer smart developers an opportunity to meet new demands.
Nick Henley, Co-founder at Cohabitas
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