According to a new study conducted by the National Statistics Institute (INE), more than two million people over the age of 65 live alone in Spain. That’s almost half the 4.7 million single-person households in the country. Of those two million, more than 850,000 are over the age of 80, and the vast majority are women (662,000).
More than two million people over the age of 65 live alone, and more than 850,000 are over the age of 80
While the data show that the trends between age groups have not varied significantly between 2013 and 2018 (the years for which data is available), it is indicative of the crisis currently facing Spain: people are older and increasingly alone.
Data from INE’s Continuous Household Survey shows a decrease in the number of youths living by themselves. Last year, around 482,000 people between the ages of 25 and 34 did not share housing with anyone else, compared to 616,300 people who did six years ago. The survey also revealed that 53.1% of these youths still live with their parents, compared to 48.5% in 2013.
“We shouldn’t get used to these numbers. It would be a scandal in Scandinavian countries,” says Albert Esteve, director of the Center for Demographic Studies at Autónoma University in Barcelona. “It’s almost a world record, the number of youths who are living [with their parents.] And it doesn’t seem to be decreasing. The crisis was felt in unemployment, but now that there are more work opportunities we don’t see the numbers improving. The precariousness of jobs has not stopped growing. The fact that the average number of household members has remained more or less stable around 2.5 people is due, in part, to the fact that many older children continue to live with their parents. This also affects fertility. Life with a partner and having children happens later in life.”
Albert Esteve, Autónoma University
This means that fewer young people are able to lead independent lives, while the number of senior citizens living alone has increased. However, experts emphasize that it is important to differentiate between being alone by choice or by force. “We come from a society in which taking care of the elderly was an obligation assumed by the children. And now this clashes with the desire for independence from parents, which has been rising over the years,” says Antonio Abellán, a demographer of the Department of Population at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and an expert on old age. Technological advancements have also allowed elderly citizens to continue living alone. “The development in home-care services and the adaptation of homes has allowed [the elderly] to be more self-reliant.”
“Living alone [is a trend that] will continue to grow. This is because marriages do not end anymore so much because of death, since life expectancy for men has increased, but because people divorce or choose to be single,” adds Abellán.
Between 2013 and 2018, single-person households increased by 320,000, and last year they represented 25.5% of all households. “Those over 65 make up three-fourths of this increase,” says Mercè Pérez Salanova, who has a PhD in psychology and is a member of Psychologists Association of Catalonia. “Living alone isn’t a problem. The thing to look at is the conditions in which a person is living alone, and whether it is out of choice. The problem is when it is not.”
The Spanish regions with the highest percentage of single-person households in 2018 were Asturias (30.2% of the total number of households), Castilla y León (29.3%) and La Rioja (28.5%).
English version by Asia London Palomba.