A sharp increase in the number of single person households may be partly to blame for the popularity of the PC and the number of people surfing the internet, if figures from the Living in Britain 2000: general household survey are anything to go by.

The study, which has been conducted every other year by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) since 1971, recorded a 15 percent increase in the number of people living alone since 1971.

While the number of people who own a home computer has also increased, as expected, by 11 percent, to 45 percent, since 1998.

"There's no evidence that one has led to the other but it could be a reason. More and more people are seeing computers as a way to relax and have fun and surfing the internet has become a very sociable activity and a way of finding a partner," said a spokesman at the ONS.

Research conducted by the European Information Technology Observatory predicts that by 2006 European revenue for online dating will amount to around £540m. That's a lot of lonely people.

"Since the aspects of the internet where people are spending the greatest amount of time online have to do with social interactions, it would appear that socialisation is what makes the internet so addictive to everyone," said psychologist John Grohol, who has conducted research on 'internet addiction'.

This is the first time the ONS survey has included questions about the number of people connected to the internet.

It found one third of all households were connected to the internet in 2000. The number of people connected now, in 2002, is around 40 percent, according to research firm IDC.

A separate survey conducted by research group Neilson NetRatings, released this week, found the worldwide internet community has now grown to a whopping 498m people.

Overall people's health is deteriorating, according to the study, and the internet could be making a contribution to our lack of exercise and poor lifestyles.

"The growth of computer games is certainly to blame for many children's lack of exercise," said a spokesman at the NSPCC. "But it cannot be blamed solely for a child's laziness [over] any other excuse. As for adults, they only have themselves to blame."

The number of households (58 percent), which owned at least one mobile phone, was included as a separate figure from those with fixed lines (98 percent) for the first time in the study's history. It look's like the ONS is finally catching up on the technology boom.