Small Data: Are 51% of people really 'single'?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released data that shows 51% of people in England and Wales are single. Does that really mean there are so many people on their own, asks Anthony Reuben.
It was the first time that the figures had shown more than half the population was single. The ONS also tells us that the proportion of single and married people varies little across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The figures came from an analysis of responses to the 2011 census, which was first released last year.
And it was accompanied by this excellent interactive map, which allows you to search for the areas with the highest proportions of single people.
What a fantastic tool for those seeking their soulmate. It shows you that if you're planning to minimise the risk of accidentally trying to pick up someone married then you should go to Islington in north London, where only a quarter of adults are married.
In fact, seven of the top 10 most single areas are in London, with Manchester, Nottingham and Brighton and Hove being the only areas outside the capital.
But can it really be true that more than half of people over 16 in England and Wales are single?
It does seem very high, but that is because the definition of "single" is people who are not married, including many people whose Facebook statuses would say they were "in a relationship".
A cohabiting couple in Islington could be legitimately cross at being chatted up because the statisticians said they were single.
A more recent release from the ONS looks in more detail at the make-up of households. It tells us that in the whole of the UK in 2014 there were 26.7 million households, of which 28% contained only one person.
Now, three million of those households with more than one person consist of a lone parent with at least one child. The lone parent would still count as a single adult.
But then there are another three million cohabiting couples, who would be counted in last year's figures as single.
In statistical terms, a household, just like a single person, is not necessarily what you would think it is. A household may be one person living alone or any group of people living together, who may not be related to each other, but do share cooking facilities and some communal living space.
While those figures from the 2011 census did include people in civil partnerships as not being single, they were too early to include any same-sex marriages, which were not allowed in the UK until last year.
So what proportion of the population is single if you don't count cohabiting as being single? According to this report, there were estimated to be 5.9 million people cohabiting in the UK in 2012, which was 11.7% of the population over 16.
That had risen from 6.5% in 1996, making it the fastest growing type of family in the UK.
So, if you're counting all people who have never been married, or who are divorced or widowed, as being single, then that has indeed risen above 50% for the first time. If you consider cohabiting couples not to be single then it's well below 40%.
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