In this report to the Council on Contemporary Families for Older Americans Month, New York University researchers Eric Klinenberg, Stacy Torres, and Elena Portocolone report on the unprecedented movement of the elderly toward solo living.
The New News
- One hundred years ago, 70 percent of widows and widowers moved in with their children; today, only 38 percent do so.
- In 1950, only 10 percent of all Americans over age 65 lived alone. Today, a full third of older Americans live alone, a figure that rises to 40 percent for those 85 and older.
- Contrary to conventional wisdom, this does not represent a decline in children’s loyalties to parents but a preference of older men and women. Almost 90 percent of older Americans say they want to remain in their own homes as they age, and falling poverty rates have made that choice more feasible for many.
The Good News
- In the 1950s, 35 percent of older people lived in poverty. Since the 1980s, it has hovered between 10 and 12.5 percent.
- Disability rates for the elderly have been declining, and the active lifespan has increased.
- Older people who live alone are more likely than their married counterparts to socialize with friends and neighbors.
Bad News: it varies by race, ethnicity, and gender
- Older women are less likely to be socially isolated than men. In fact, women over sixty who live alone report more happiness than married women the same age. But they are more likely to experience financial hardship than men, especially if they are minorities: 38 percent of black women and 41 percent of Hispanic women who live alone are poor.
- Older white men are more financially secure than any other group, but the suicide rate for white men over age 80 is six times the overall suicide rate and three times higher than that of same-aged African-American men.