Recent decades have been characterised by a fall in the average size of households, reflecting — at least in part — lower fertility rates, a higher number of divorces and the dissolution of extended households. A growing number (and share) of older people in the European Union (EU) are living alone (particularly older women): they form a particularly vulnerable group in society, with an increased risk of poverty or social exclusion.
The overwhelming majority of older people continue to live in private households (either alone, with their spouse or with other persons). Nevertheless, some older people move into institutional households, such as retirement or nursing homes; this may occur out of choice (for example, not wishing to live alone) or because it is no longer possible for older people to carry on living at home (for example, due to complex long-term care needs). The very old are more likely to be frail and therefore to need services such as those provided within institutional households.