Living Alone Less Likely in our Elder Years Than for Prior Generations

We are all aging but are adopting healthier lifestyles than those in generations past.

As a result, life expectancy for both men and women has increased — for men at a greater rate than for women.

That isn’t much of a surprise to us, as we need only look around to see the smiling faces of many seniors enjoying life.

Also, the news media frequently shares inspiring stories of centenarians celebrating their 100th or even 110th birthdays. These are both men and women!

Did you notice – both men and women?

In the past, life expectancy for men was less than for women, leaving many women facing retirement alone. Those demographics are beginning to change.

Latest Research Shows Women Not Always Alone

A recent Pew Research study compared data of seniors living alone from 1900-1990 with those living alone from 1990-2014.

This report shows that women are living alone less now than they were in the past.

Researchers state that one reason may be that many women are living with their spouses longer, as fewer women are widows. In addition, women are living with adult children or others.

From 1990 to 2014, Pew found that the number of seniors aged 65 to 84 who live alone has decreased by 3% compared to earlier recorded years. Prior to that time, the number was steadily rising.

The number of older women living alone declined to 32% in 2014 from 38% in 1990.

In contrast, older men living alone increased to 18% in 2014 from 15% in the earlier group, likely because more are divorced and not remarried, according to the study. Some studies indicate that men are more likely to remarry after divorce than women.

Women and Aging

The research from this study highlights the changing face of successful aging for women.

In the past, women were widowed and lived alone.

In 2014 the results indicated about 30% of women 65 to 84 were living alone (down 8% from 1990).

At the same time, women in the study living with a spouse increased from 41% to 46%.

These women were also likely to be unmarried and living with adult children or others in 2014.

In fact, many women in the study group were not living with children but actually living with other family members and even non-family members.

The data changes for women after age 85. Women were more likely to live with their children and be unmarried, 23% compared with 16%, as they age.

Women make up a greater percentage of seniors in this age group of 12.1 million seniors living alone. Their majority has dropped from 79% in 1990 to 69% in 2014 as men live longer.

It is interesting to note that women who live alone report that they spend more time on hobbies than men, 65% compared to 49%.

Aging in Place Dreams

Even though the numbers of women living alone has decreased while the number of men has increased, both groups report that their goal is to stay in their own home as they age.

It doesn’t matter if they live with someone like a spouse, children or another person, they prefer to do so in their own home.

In fact, according to another survey, six out of ten seniors say they would get in-home care if they could no longer live alone in order to be in their home.

In this survey, only 17% reported they would move to an assisted living facility and 8% say they would move in with a family member.

Downside of Living Alone

Despite the desire for independence and wishing to stay in their own home, seniors surveyed report that there are pressures when living alone that can be difficult for them.

  • Financial strain – only 33% report they are financially comfortable. However, 49% of those living with others say they live comfortably. Seniors who are alone say they have just enough resources to meet their basic needs. Those living alone are statistically three times more likely to be considered poor, women 19% compared to 15% of men.
  • Social isolation – many report less time spent with family members including grandchildren and have less friends.
  • Volunteerism – fewer seniors who live alone volunteer in their communities than those who live with others.
  • Multigenerational living – in recent years, young adults have stayed home with parents due to loss of jobs, underemployment, staying in school longer and delayed marriages. This could inadvertently put a strain on some seniors but provide needed assistance for others.
  • Travel – fewer seniors who live alone report traveling for pleasure compared to their counterparts who live with others.
  • Stress – both groups report similar levels of stress as they age no matter their living arrangements.

Living Alone Should Not Mean Being Lonely

It is important for seniors to stay engaged with their family, friends and communities as they age in place.

Being a volunteer in an organization or agency about which your senior feels passionate, such as the humane society or local school reading program, can improve their quality of life.

Visiting with friends and family members to stay connected, whether in person, via telephone, or virtually through technology is important for the mental well-being of our senior loved ones.

Going to the senior center can also help many seniors stay connected.

It is also helpful to reach out and adopt resources that can improve senior’s ability to age in place more easily, safely and longer through the use of technology. There are many quick, easy and inexpensive ways to increase the use of technology as well as other more involved and costly ways.

The benefits may outweigh the costs for some of these devices and innovations for many seniors living alone.

Roles for Family Caregivers

Family caregivers may need to facilitate in some way the activities in which their seniors choose to participate. You may have to arrange transportation or assist with getting them started.

It would be well worth it for senior loved ones if you give them the jumpstart they need.

Living in their home may be their goal, but being isolated and lonely certainly is not!

They may need the help of family caregivers or encouragement to stay engaged for their own health.

Their quality of life should be everyone’s goal!