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Lonely Funerals For The ‘Eleanor Rigby Generation’

Press release March 25, 2009 Family

Evidence that an increasing number of elderly women are dying alone with no attendees at their funeral.

When The Beatles released Eleanor Rigby in 1966, few of the 30-something women listening to the tale of the woman featured in the song's title would have envisaged sharing her fate: "Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came."

Sadly, 43 years on, there is evidence that an increasing number of women are facing a similar destiny, a funeral devoid of any attendees.

With the continuing breakdown of the traditional family unit, more and more elderly people are facing lonely lives. In 1961, 12% of the population lived alone, representing 1.9 million households. By 2005 this had risen to 29% of the population, accounting for 7 million households, and now nearly half of the one-person households are pensioner-only households. Over three quarters of women living alone are aged 65 and over.

Golden Charter, the UK's leading provider of funeral plans to independent funeral directors, is witnessing the results of this trend. Jim McDermott, Communications Manager with Golden Charter, comments:

"We are seeing a rise in the number of old people living alone and who are dying without anyone available to make funeral arrangements - it's very sad, but it does seem to be a growing trend. The Local Government Association recently announced results of a study of what are termed state-funded funerals, where there is no family contribution to the cost of the funeral arrangements. The LGA estimates that 4,900 funerals of this nature were carried out by local authorities in England and Wales in 2007-8, representing a rise of 10% on the previous year.

"These are lonely people, being buried by their local council.

"The Office for National Statistics reports that while 25% of men die as widowers, the figure for women dying as widows is 59%, primarily due to the fact that women live longer. Consequently, we can expect to see increasing numbers of funerals like that of Eleanor Rigby's."

John Weir, National Spokesman for the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) continues:

"As our population ages, over-75s represent a growing proportion of total registered deaths. In England and Wales this age group accounted for 39% of all deaths in 1951 but 66% in 2004.  The Office for National Statistics show the average age at which women die is 81 while for men it is 76, so it means that single women will continue to make up the greater balance of funerals in the foreseeable future.

"With the challenges of the economic downturn, and particularly the drastic drop in rates paid on savings accounts, our members are reporting increasing concern amongst elderly clients about being able to afford to pay for their funeral. Funeral plans are an effective and secure method by which people can arrange to pay for their own funeral ahead of the event, but research shows that those more likely to have planned their own funeral are males aged over 55 years. Women seem to be relatively less well prepared and I am afraid that we can expect to see the 'Eleanor Rigby' phenomenon continue to increase."


  Editor's notes:

  • 1. 'Eleanor Rigby' by Lennon and McCartney, first released August 5, 1966 (UK: Parlophone R5493)
  • 2. The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) represents 976 independent funeral directors in the UK
  • 3. Golden Charter is the leading provider of funeral plans to independent funeral directors in the UK, with over 200,000 plans issued.
  • 4. Sources of information used in compiling this news release are:

The Office for National Statistics for mortality data

Funerals: Market Intelligence report 2007 produced by Mintel International Group Ltd

Local Government Association (LGA) survey of 116 Councils 2007-08


Jim McDermott at Golden Charter:  Tel 0141 942 5855 or [email protected]


John Weir at SAIF: Tel 0845 2306777or [email protected] 


Alistair McLean at Acumen: Tel 0131 661 7027 or [email protected]