The General Register of Scotland (GROS) projects that although the growth in single person households has slowed in the past two years, the number of people living alone will reach 1.02 million by 2018 and 1.25 million by 2033 -- up 73% compared to 2001.
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And while women are currently more likely to live alone than men, the growth in the number of single male households is expected to increase more rapidly over the next two decades, from 370,000 in 2008 to 578,000 in 2033 -- a projected increase of 56% compared with 44% for women.
Registrar General Duncan Macniven said the increases, which prior to the recent lull saw the number of single-person households increase 7% between 2003 and 2008, were mainly driven by a change in household structure.
He said: “The number of households in Scotland is still increasing. This is due partly to a small increase in population, but mainly to changes in household structure, with more people living alone. The rate of growth has slowed in the past two years. The increase from 2008 to 2009 was the lowest in the last five years.”
The dramatic shift in how Scots live is highlighted most clearly with predictions for the average household size. This has already declined from 2.45 people in 1991 to 2.18 in 2008, and the GROS anticipates that a typical Scottish household will soon be occupied by fewer than two people, dipping to an average of 1.93 by 2033.
“Over the next 25 years, the number of households in Scotland is projected to increase by more than one-fifth to 2.8 million -- an average of an additional 19,250 households per year,” said Macniven.
The surge will be driven by a growing number of small households. Those with two adults and no children are projected to rise from 702,000 to 866,000 and households of one adult with children are projected to rise from 163,000 to 238,000.
Meanwhile, an ageing population will see the number of households headed by someone aged 60 jump from 780,000 to 1.15 million over the next 25 years and households headed by someone aged 85 or over more than double, from 73,000 to 196,000.
Professor Douglas Robertson, head of Stirling University’s department of applied social sciences and chairman of the Scottish Government’s private rented sector strategy group, said the figures were part of a wider pattern, largely driven by divorce rates.
He told The Herald: “It’s not not surprising. It’s a pattern that’s existed for a good 20 or 30 years.
“We’ve got an ageing population and a population that, as a result of changing lifestyles, has got more people that break up and therefore live alone.
“In the past, your single people would be largely widows with their husbands dying at a much younger age. You’ve still got that pattern, but you’ve also got a much younger cohort living on their own.”
‘I really like having my own space’
For account executive Kathleen MacMillan, 23, coming home to an empty house is bliss after growing up sharing space with her brother and sister.
She said: “There are definite pros. I can do what I want, when I want, and I don’t have to answer to anyone. I really like having my own space.”
She is typical of the rising number of young people who live alone and has done so for three years, after sharing a flat with two other female students while she was at university.
Her mother bought the one-bedroom flat in Crookston, Glasgow, in 2007 and initially let it out to her daughter, but last year Kathleen became the official owner-occupier.
Although she acknowledges it would be nice to have someone to split bills with, Kathleen says she enjoys living alone - possibly too much.
“I’m worried I’ll get set in my ways and end up like an old lady with all her cats, ” she said.