The friend who acted as best man at my wedding is still single. Gifted with good looks by his Italian mother, he is educated, well-travelled, wry and caring. Why then, at 50, does Nick have nobody to care for, save himself? There are reasons I can guess at, but there is also a general trend which he fits into. The number of people who live alone aged between 45 and 64 – my age group – has risen by a quarter in a decade. Of them, there are 1.2 million men reported to be living alone, and 1.1 million women.
The rise in the number of middle-aged singletons is not widely reported. We worry more, rightly, about the number of elderly folk whose loneliness can be terminal. But the rate of increase in solitary living is higher among men like my chum than it is for pensioners, who tend to be isolated by widowhood, rather than by divorce or never having married.
I thought about Nick as I scrolled down remarks left recently on the Telegraph website. They were in response to a full-page feature the paper had done about big families, prompted by reports that Jamie Oliver and his wife were hoping to “do a Rees-Mogg” and have a sixth child. The article included pictures of my children and quotes from my wife and me.
Unusually, the majority of the online comments left at the bottom of the piece were supportive. But there was one correspondent, “David Harvey”, who said that the Braziers “aren’t doing the world a favour by producing so many children, we have enough already”.
Dear reader, that passes for polite intercourse by the standards set by what has gone before. The last time I speculated on the benefits of a bigger family in the Telegraph the spittle really flew. Of the 55 comments left, most were critical and frequently ad hominem. I was variously described as “mad”, “selfish”, “unbelievable”, a “scrounger” or a “loony”, and in a more thoughtful adjective, “self-justifying”. One respondent suggested my family and I “should be shunned and vilified”. Another seemed to imply that I might put my children to death if their carbon footprint grew too big.
How many of these armchair Malthusians know people, or indeed are themselves, like Nick? The growth in single-occupancy dwelling is driven sometimes by choice, often by circumstance. Whatever the reason, living alone is not seen as a badge of environmental shame, certainly not in the way that having a home packed to the gills with children seems to be. Fields are being forfeited for foundations to satisfy a demand for housing that has several causes. The growth in solitary living is one of them. The growth of families like mine, I submit, is not.
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