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Proliferation of one-person households continues upward trend

Vancouverite Mary Rawson, 85, one of the increasing number of people who live on their own, isn’t staunchly opposed to having a roommate, but there are times, she says, when it’s nice to be alone.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

When asked how she's come to live on her own, 86-year-old Mary Rawson confesses, "I suppose I'm somewhat choosy."

The Vancouverite is far from alone when it comes to taking such a path. Census data show, for the first time, there are more one-person households in Canada than couple households with children.

Statistics Canada says it's the continuation of an upward trend it has noticed for decades. At younger ages, men are more likely to live alone than women. For those aged 65 or older, however, women are almost twice as likely to do so (31.5 per cent compared with 16 per cent for men) due in part to their longer life expectancy.

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Ms. Rawson isn't staunchly opposed to having a roommate – she's lived with people in the past. But there are times, she notes, when it's nice to be alone.

If she wanted to find a roommate, it wouldn't be easy. She says she isn't computer literate, which likely eliminates the online-classifieds route. She'd also want to find someone with similar interests. And, she says, there is another, more practical, reason.

"Once you get to a certain age," she says with a slight chuckle, "your friends also get old and die. It's as much a function of age as anything."

Ms. Rawson was born in the B.C. Sunshine Coast community of Powell River, though she was raised near the Interior city of Kamloops. She moved to Vancouver for university and counts, among her career highlights, being appointed to the province's agricultural land commission.

Ms. Rawson never married, nor had children. She says that was partly just the way things unfolded, partly by choice.

"I don't think what single people experience in most sides of life is that much different from married people," she said.

Ms. Rawson said she is considering a plan to renovate the lower part of her home for a tenant. That way there would at least be someone nearby if she had a medical emergency.

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"I notice when some of my friends get old and fall down, there's nobody there to pick them up. The neighbours usually can't see if someone's fallen down," she said.

In 2001, the proportion of one-person households was 25.7 per cent. In 2011, that number climbed to 27.6 per cent. Census data indicate there were more than 3.6 million one-person households last year, compared to about 3.5 million couple households with children.

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