Mid­dle-aged women happy to go it alone

The ra­tios around the coun­try dif­fer but older sin­gle women tend to out­num­ber the blokes

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - SI­MONE FOX KOOB

Busi­ness owner Hayley Mor­ris is 48, sin­gle, in­de­pen­dent and happy.

The mother of three lives in the in­ner-west Mel­bourne sub­urb of Yar­rav­ille, and has a hec­tic sched­ule man­ag­ing her travel com­pany and car­ing for her chil­dren.

And, ac­cord­ing to the cen­sus, she is one of a grow­ing num­ber of women aged be­tween 45 and 54 who are sin­gle, yet there are sig­nif­i­cantly fewer sin­gle men in the same age bracket.

An anal­y­sis of last year’s cen­sus by The De­mo­graph­ics Group found there were 424,000 sin­gle women in Aus­tralia and 346,000 sin­gle men aged be­tween 45-54, cre­at­ing a ra­tio of 82 sin­gle men to ev­ery 100 sin­gle women.

Ms Mor­ris was ini­tially sur­prised, but says the data re­flects her ex­pe­ri­ence. She has found women feel less pres­sure to find an­other part­ner af­ter a re­la­tion- ship ends and are happy be­ing sin­gle. “For me per­son­ally, (that trend is) about not set­tling for some­thing you are not happy with,” she said. “While it’s nice to have some­one, women now are more in­de­pen­dent, we don’t need to have a man to ful­fil us.

“We have good jobs, good friends, we can travel and pur­sue our own dreams with­out need­ing a man to pro­vide those things.”

Bernard Salt, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the de­mo­graph­ics ad­vi­sory group, said re­search also showed mid­dle-aged sin­gle men ap­peared to clus­ter in cer­tain ar­eas. In Dar­win, a city dom­i­nated by tra­di­tion­ally male jobs in the mil­i­tary and en­ergy, the ra­tio was 100 sin­gle women for 100 sin­gle men.

“In Mel­bourne it’s a dif­fer­ent story, with 84,000 sin­gle women and 64,000 sin­gle men in this mar­ket pro­duc­ing a ra­tio of 76 mid­dle-age sin­gle men per 100 mid­dle-aged sin­gle women,” he said. “Mel­bourne of­fers access to cor­po­rate head of­fices as well as to ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices which tend to favour women.”

Mel­bourne has the low­est num­ber of sin­gle women per 100 sin­gle males; Syd­ney comes in at 78, Bris­bane at 79, Perth at 82 and Ade­laide at 86.

Ms Mor­ris, the founder of Sis­ter­hood Women’s Travel which runs fe­male-only tours, said ev­ery older sin­gle woman had their own story, and it was not al­ways cen­tred around find­ing a part­ner.

“My life is so full of work ... and I’m very close to my fam­ily, so a guy would be a bonus but it’s not the be all and end all,” she said.

We scanned the con­ti­nent to find the cities and post­codes where the odds of find­ing love later in life are best

Men and women of Aus­tralia, I have an im­por­tant an­nounce­ment. Suf­fi­cient data has been re­leased by the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics to con­struct a sta­tis­ti­cal model — stay with me here — that de­ter­mines the ra­tio be­tween the num­ber of sin­gle and mar­ried or de facto adults across the life cy­cle. No mat­ter your age, what are your chances of find­ing love — or lust — with a sim­i­larly aged sin­gle per­son of the op­po­site sex?

In Septem­ber I looked at bach­e­lor hot spots for the young and beau­ti­ful in the 25 to 34 age co­hort: sin­gle women, please make your way to Mel­bourne’s Fawkner or Lucin­dale in South Aus­tralia, which are among this na­tion’s hottest bach­e­lor hot spots. Or so it would seem from cen­sus re­sults.

In the 25 to 34 age group the odds gov­ern­ing part­ner se­lec­tion are very much in women’s favour: just 554,000 sin­gle women against 646,000 sin­gle men. It is this blunt ra­tio that de­ter­mines each gen­der’s chances for love. More sin­gle men than sin­gle women al­lows re­pro­duc­tive women the ex­quis­ite lux­ury of choice. Evo­lu­tion­ist Charles Dar­win would call these odds nat­u­ral se­lec­tion that leads to an over­all im­prove­ment in the sur­vival of the hu­man race. The­o­ret­i­cally, dud dudes don’t get to pass on their genes.

This is all well and good for the re­pro­duc­tive stage in the life cy­cle, but what hap­pens later in life? Women have the up­per hand in the part­ner­ing stakes in youth but later in life the un­der­ly­ing de­mo­graph­ics favour men. Mother Na­ture must have a sense of hu­mour or a sense of fair play.

In the 45 to 54 age group there are 424,000 sin­gle women and 346,000 sin­gle men. Mid­dle-aged sin­gle men can pick and choose part­ners from their own age co­hort or com­pete for an even younger can­di­date for their af­fec­tion. By 55 to 64, the odds de­te­rio- rate fur­ther for sin­gle women: 406,000 sin­gle women ver­sus 298,000 sin­gle men.

Don’t blame me for these fig­ures; I’m just the messenger. But I am here to help.

There may be an un­der­sup­ply of sin­gle men rel­a­tive to sin­gle women from the late 30s on­wards, but this is a prob­lem only if you don’t know where to look. Mid­dleaged sin­gle men clus­ter; they hang out in the same places. All older sin­gle women need do is find the clus­ter, and the odds of find­ing a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship are im­proved. Who needs Tin­der when you have access to the cen­sus?

The De­mo­graph­ics Group’s di­rec­tor of re­search, Si­mon Kuesten­macher, has scanned the con­ti­nent to find the cities and post­codes where the odds of find­ing love later in life are best.

Na­tion­ally, there are 82 sin­gle men aged 45 to 54 per 100 sin­gle women, but in Dar­win the ra­tio is 100:100. The mid­dle-aged part­ner­ing mar­ket must be siz­zling in the Top End with 2583 sin­gle women and 2584 sin­gle men aged 45 to 54. But it’s a dif­fer­ent story at the other end of the con­ti­nent in cold and lonely Mel­bourne, with 84,000 sin­gle women and 64,000 sin­gle men pro­duc­ing a ra­tio of 76 mid­dle-age sin­gle men per 100 mid­dle-aged sin­gle women.

Dar­win is dom­i­nated by the mil­i­tary and the en­ergy in­dus­try, both of which tend to favour men, whereas Mel­bourne of­fers access to cor­po­rate head of­fices as well as to ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices, which tend to favour women.

Of course this sum­ma­tion of the older sin­gles mar­ket sim­ply presents the raw num­bers in each city. The num­bers in­clude sin­gles who are gay as well as oth­ers who may be per­fectly happy with their re­la­tion­ship sta­tus.

How­ever, it is as­sumed the pro­por­tion of sin­gles not in­clined to part­ner up with a member of the op­po­site sex is broadly the same for each gen­der, which means the logic of the sin­gles ra­tio is still might­ily rel­e­vant to the is­sue of part­ner se­lec­tion.

We have mapped the dis­tri­bu­tion of older sin­gles across each cap­i­tal city and it shows an over­all wash of more sin­gle women than sin­gle men in the 45 to 54 mar­ket, which is to be ex­pected given the na­tional fig­ures. There is a pow­er­ful and, I sus­pect, painful story to be told about the break­down of re­la­tion­ships later in life that is ev­i­denced in the cen­sus re­sults. There’s a lot of sin­gles later in life and each of them has a story to tell.

Even so there are some — ad­mit­tedly mod­est — clus­ters of mid­dle-aged sin­gle men in each cap­i­tal city. (Maybe there’s no need to move to Dar­win?) These clus­ters in­clude the Perth CBD, where there are 77 sin­gle men aged 45 to 54 and just 37 sin­gle women.

In Mel­bourne the older sin­gles hot spot is Bun­yip near Pak­en­ham, where there are 24 sin­gle women and 40 sin­gle men. Bun­yip’s older sin­gle women can’t com­plain. There’s plenty of older sin­gle male prod­uct on of­fer. In Syd­ney the hot spot is, per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, Dar­linghurst, where there are 970 sin­gle men and just 484 sin­gle women. In Bris­bane sin­gle older blokes bunker down in For­ti­tude Val­ley, where they out­num­ber sin­gle women by a ra­tio of 337 to 228.

In other parts of our ma­jor cities there is no­tice­able ab­sence of older sin­gle men. In the pub­lic hous­ing es­tates of Syd­ney’s Camp­bell­town, for ex­am­ple, there are 75 sin­gle women aged 45 to 54 and just 24 sin­gle men. In Mel­bourne it’s a dif­fer­ent story: in the gen­teel sub­urb of Bal­wyn there are 125 mid­dle-aged sin­gle women and just 49 men in the same sit­u­a­tion. In Bris­bane there are 370 sin­gle women aged 45 to 54 in Calam­vale and just 181 sin­gle men.

In some ways the nar­ra­tive of a sin­gle ex­is­tence later in life is to be ex­pected. Sin­gle men in their late 40s and early 50s hud­dle to­gether in the gay sub­urbs of Syd­ney (Dar­linghurst) and Mel­bourne (Ab­bots­ford) or give them­selves over to work by clus­ter­ing in or near the CBD in Perth, Ade­laide and Bris­bane.

Older sin­gle men also clus­ter in min­ing com­mu­ni­ties and in fron­tier towns such as Kar­ratha and Dar­win and in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that women are dis­in­clined to move to or to live in, such as Nara­coorte, Jind­abyne and Tum­barumba. I sus­pect this isn’t so much a fe­male re­jec­tion of the men in these ar­eas as it is a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion based on a per­ceived ab­sence of work op­tions for women.

Per­haps the most cu­ri­ous out­come of this trawl through the ways in which older sin­gles or­gan­ise their lives is the clus­ter­ing of older sin­gle women in large coun­try towns sur­rounded by an ocean of older sin­gle men. When a re­la­tion­ship breaks down in the city the fe­male usu­ally re­mains with the house and the kids, as in Camp­bell­town, Bal­wyn and Calam­vale. The men in this sit­u­a­tion grav­i­tate to a rented apart­ment in the CBD or in­ner city. In the coun­try it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Woman leave the farm and move into town, cre­at­ing an is­land of older sin­gles per­haps work­ing in health, ed­u­ca­tion or busi­ness ser­vices.

Ru­ral Aus­tralia is awash with towns func­tion­ing as sin­gles is­lands, in­clud­ing Hor­sham (pop­u­la­tion 16,000), Rock­hamp­ton in­clud­ing Yep­poon (18,000) and Mount Gam­bier (29,000). All three towns are suf­fi­ciently large to sup­port a di­verse em­ploy­ment base and al­low sep­a­rated hus- bands and exes rea­son­able access to chil­dren. Hor­sham has 271 sin­gle women aged 45 to 54 and 207 sin­gle men. In the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties of Mur­toa, Hind­marsh and West Wim­mera, there are 30 per cent more older sin­gle men than sin­gle women.

Aus­tralia’s ad­mit­tedly shal­low re­serves of mid­dle-aged sin­gle men are thinly scat­tered across the farm­lands or clus­ter­ing here and there for mil­i­tary or min­ing pur­poses. Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties must be marked if not skewed by the sig­nif­i­cant and grow­ing so­cial is­sue of the break­down of fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ships. Only in the city is the story dif­fer­ent and where men must seek out al­ter­na­tive digs.

I sus­pect there is much un­hap­pi­ness and angst at dif­fer­ent times in the life cy­cle when Aus­tralians re­alise their re­la­tion­ship isn’t work­ing. Based on cen­sus fig­ures, I sus­pect this is from the mid-30s on­wards, lead­ing to angst across the spec­trum of mid­dle age. Per­haps I need to re­view mar­ried cou­ples through the life cy­cle to re­store your faith that some Aus­tralians re­ally do man­age to raise a fam­ily and stay to­gether through good times and bad.

AARON FRAN­CIS

Hayley Mor­ris yes­ter­day

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