Discussion paper

DP211 Leaving Home and Living Alone: An Historical Perspective

This paper provides a historical and geographical perspective on the composition of households in present-day Europe. Many more people today live on their own than was the case in pre-industrial England, but there are some surprising continuities in household composition. In particular, households in the pre-industrial era were no more likely than present-day ones to include distant relatives. In addition, the recent rise in the proportion of one-parent families due to divorce has resulted in a household composition which resembles that produced by early widowhood in the seventeenth century. Nor has the recent increase in the proportion of one-person households been accompanied by any reduction in the variation within Europe in the frequency of living alone, which remains much lower in Southern and parts of Eastern Europe than in Western Europe and Scandinavia. More thorough comparisons are hampered by inconsistencies in the ways individual countries design tables to illustrate household types. The paper concludes by suggesting that a standard set of tables should be agreed upon and produced for different national populations within Europe.


Wall, R (1987), ‘DP211 Leaving Home and Living Alone: An Historical Perspective‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 211. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp211