If you’re living alone, or unwilling to re-marry, and in your 50s or older, you’re part of a trend in the U.S, reports The New York Times:
more adults are remaining single. The shift is changing the traditional portrait of older Americans: About a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 1970, according to an analysis of recently released census data conducted by demographers at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.
Sociologists expect those numbers to rise sharply in coming decades as younger people, who have far lower rates of marriage than their elders, move into middle age.
Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State, said the trend would transform the lives of many older people.
The elderly, who have traditionally relied on spouses for their care, will increasingly struggle to fend for themselves. And federal and local governments will have to shoulder much of the cost of their care. Unmarried baby boomers are five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts, statistics show. They are also three times as likely to receive food stamps, public assistance or disability payments.
This is serious stuff, and an issue I’ve recently tasted firsthand.
I had major surgery in early February — enough of a financial challenge for someone self-employed with no paid sick or vacation days and a monthly four-figure overhead to meet. I came home from the hospital after three days, unable to bathe, dress, cook or clean the apartment. Simply trying to sweep our tiny kitchen floor, a week later, sent my pulse racing.
A physical therapist and nurse came to our apartment several times a week, hugely comforting to know I was healthy and recovering well. But the most minute of daily tasks were overwhelming for several weeks — without the physical help of my husband, and his infinite kindness and gentleness, it would have been impossible.
I lived alone for much of my life, ages 19 to 23 (when I lived with a boyfriend), ages 24 to 30 (when I settled down with my first husband), ages 37 to 43 (after my divorce, with no children.) I generally enjoyed my privacy and solitude, had plenty of friends, work I liked, a small black terrier for company, and never worried much about it.
That all changed with my first orthopedic surgery, in January 2000, followed by another (both minor knee operations) within the year. For the first, I was single, and another single friend came all the way up from Manhattan in a blinding blizzard — even climbing our steep hill after the taxi gave up — to be with me. I got meals delivered by my church for a few days, then my father came from Canada to stay with me for a few more days.
I needed help for quite some time. Trying to simply buy groceries on crutches — which I’ve now done many times — is no picnic!
Being alone? Not so alluring, suddenly.
My mother, who lived on her own her entire life after her divorce from my father when she was 30, is now in a nursing home. It was clear to me on my last visit that she wasn’t going to be living alone much longer, for a variety of health-related reasons. Like me, she is — or always was — fiercely independent.
Unlike many women her age, though, she was fortunate enough to have the financial means to remain that way.
Old age is a rough ride for many of us, especially women who do not have pensions to rely on, or adequate savings or Social Security payments. Those of us who never had children, nor who have families that are either emotionally or physically close to us, willing to help us shower or buy our groceries or change our dressings, have to have very good friends, or someone we can rely on.
Who’s going to step in? Who’s going to pay for it?
The Times — somewhat confusingly — also recently published a piece that’s a paean to the glories of the single life — great if you’ve got lots of cash, consistently terrific health and/or a wide, deep network of supportive friends and family nearby. Few of us do!
A new book extols the virtues of the solo life, but also raises some of these questions.
What once looked like a seductive form of privacy and independence can quickly change form into something much darker and more frightening.
Do you live alone right now?
How’s it working for you?