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Living like the (Bridget) Joneses? Increasing singleness among British 20-somethings

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Growing numbers of young people - notably young men - are staying single in their twenties, according to new research by Roona Simpson, to be presented at the British Household Panel Survey 2005 conference at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) on Saturday 2 July.

The research also finds that over the past 50 years or so, the proportions of young men remaining single have consistently been considerably higher than for women of the same age. For example, of those men and women born in the 1960s, only 7 per cent of women at age 30 had never been married or cohabited, compared with 15 per cent of men.

Declining marriage rates in recent decades means a dramatic rise in the proportions of men and women remaining never married. Several commentators have suggested that the shift away from marriage can be accounted for by the increase in cohabitation.

But Roona Simpson's research demonstrates that, alongside a decline in marriage, there is evidence of a decline in residential partnership amongst those in their twenties. While similar proportions do form either cohabiting or marital partnerships by their thirties, this evidence of a delay indicates that young men and women are increasingly spending longer periods of their twenties single.

The research analyses data from the British Household Panel Survey to provide information on the proportions of single men and women who have not experienced any residential partnership. It measures the duration spent single prior to the formation of either a marital or cohabiting partnership. This information is provided for those born since the 1910s, and by specific ages, thus presents a picture of changes over time.

The research finds that:

  • The proportions of young people remaining single are not unprecedented. Looking at data throughout the twentieth century, the figures indicate that higher proportions of men and women born in the early part of the century remained single in their twenties than those born from the 1960s onwards.
  • There are different patterns for men and women. The figures for those born since the 1940s show that while for women at age 25, most of the decline in marriage is attributable to cohabitation, for men of the same age, most of the decline is attributable to remaining single.

Roona Simpson comments: 'Single women have been the subject of much attention recently in popular culture. But these figures suggest the need to consider the experiences of singleness for young men.'

'Remaining single has wider implications for policy areas such as family formation and housing provision, and these findings suggest the need for further research into the factors associated with singleness for young people - who it is that are likely to be the "Bridget and Brad Jones"'.


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'Living like the (Bridget) Jones's?' Using the BHPS to research whether there is a delay or decline in partnership formation in Great Britain by Roona Simpson will be presented at the British Household Panel Survey 2005 conference at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), Essex.

Roona Simpson is at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Press cuttings

Sunday Times 
British men reveal their inner Darcy (24 July 05)
A new study has challenged the British men's reputation of being unromantic, by finding that they rate love in a relationship more highly than those of any other nation. However, another study, by the LSE, found half of men in their twenties avoid relationships. 

Cars, flats, freedom (3 July 05)
Reference to an LSE study that revealed that in the number of men living without a partner or married is rising.

Daily Mail
On the shelf...where so many young men are to be found today (27 June 05) 

Bachelor life for Britons (27 June 05)
Gender Institute research on numbers of British men staying single. 

Independent on Sunday
Half of 'twenty-something' men shun relationships (26 June 05)
New Gender Institute research shows men are staying single for longer

27 June 2005