Confronting Living Alone

As Gen X and Boomers Age, They Confront Living Alone — More older Americans are living by themselves than ever before. That shift presents issues on housing, health care and personal finance.”

This was a front page story in the Dec. 1 New York Times. What a discovery!  But in the paper that pledges All the news that’s fit print, this declaration should not be taken lightly.

Alone By Choice … And Not

According to IPUMS Current Population Survey, some 26 million people in the United State live alone — a jump of 11 million people since 2000. Part of the reason for this is because Baby Boomers and older Gen X-ers (Gen X are those born 1965-1980) make up a larger share of the population than ever before. Another factor is the deep change in attitudes toward gender, sexual orientation, and marriage. People 50 and up are much more likely to be divorced, separated, or never married. And women — who in recent decades have finally been able to advance professionally, own homes, and have financial independence — comprise 60 percent of single older adults.

Additionally, many older adults of all genders chose to not have children when they were younger, so the societal adage of relying on family, or the kids, doesn’t apply.

Two other factors are income and race. Working class and economically lower class individuals without the ability to save vast quantities of money for retirement see painfully few options as they age. The constraints are particularly acute for many older African Americans, who lived through redlining and segregation, and found home ownership the answer to their shelter needs but not a reliable resource for “wealth building.” Without enough equity accumulated, these owners find it difficult, if not impossible, to compete in today’s housing marketplace — as downsizing buyers or renters. So it is particularly concerning to see The New York Times’ final declaration:

No Place To Go

Anyone who’s tried to list a home or to downsize into a smaller home in preparation for retirement has discovered that a lot has changed over the past 50 years. For example, according to a November 2022 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1960, just 13 percent of all U.S. households had a single occupant. Today, that figure is almost 30 percent. And for Baby Boomers and older Gen X-ers, that number grows to around 36 percent.

The problem is that many of us live in the same, now-cavernous homes we bought decades ago. According to census data, many single older adults live in homes with at least three bedrooms. Many would like to downsize into something smaller and more in keeping with the Third Chapter lifestyle they envision, but they can’t. There is a shortage of smaller homes in many communities and neighborhoods.

According to Freddie Mac research, in 1982, housing units of less than 1,400 square feet comprised around 40 percent of all new home construction. Today just 7 percent of new houses are these smaller homes — even though the number of single-person households has risen dramatically.

To put it bluntly, there aren’t enough smaller homes for older adults to move into, which raises the price of small homes and one- and two-bedroom condominiums. So older adults simply stay in the house they’re already in because the mortgage and taxes are cheaper than buying a new home. This has a larger ripple effect, in that the larger homes older adults currently live in don’t come on the market, raising the cost of larger homes beyond the reach of many young families.

But I Like Living Alone

Baby Boomers came of age requiring independence and demanding full agency of our bodies, decisions, livelihoods, and lives. Many of us still are healthy and enjoying solo living. However, there is “the other shoe” that’s waiting to drop.

Research from the National Institute on Aging shows that regardless of how well senior citizens think they’re doing now, people aging alone experience increased physical and mental health outcomes — and shorter life spans — than their counterparts. Additionally, 1 in 6 older adults (55+) do not have children — and many either have outlived other family members or have no family close by. How will we successfully live alone as we age?

Think Different

As the old Apple Computer ads of the late 1990s encouraged, “Think Different.” Baby Boomers are already testing new — and sometimes traditional — ways of living together while still maintaining some independence. I’ve already mentioned some — various types of shared housing, cohousing, and accessory dwelling units. There also are many kinds of independent living, resort living, and continuing care communities springing up across the country. But for people of less means — and who perhaps just want to stay in the town they know and love — there are new ways of looking at the role of the community and the neighborhood in helping its residents age in place … and we need more ideas and models.

What models or services have you heard or fantasized about with friends? Drop your ideas or questions in the Comments below and let’s see what different thinking we can get going!

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.

3 Comments

  1. Bonnie Boren on December 13, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    Reese, Lynn sent me your blog. It is amazing, informative and so helpful.
    Thank you

  2. Joanne kendall on December 14, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    I am thankful for any help, as a baby boomer I must say I didn’t plan ahead well enough to really make it and I would say the last 10 years of my life have been a financial problems and especially that I don’t work. Looking for some kind of work that I could do part time with some issues and limits for a 67 year old female, who knows how my body is slowing way down and I have to say I’m old. Ask any 16 year old. Lol thanks for all the great information.

  3. Joanne kendall on December 14, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    I am thankful for any help, as a baby boomer I must say I didn’t plan ahead well enough to really make it and I would say the last 10 years of my life have been a financial problems and especially that I don’t work. Looking for some kind of work that I could do part time with some issues and limits for a 67 year old female, who knows how my body is slowing way down and I have to say I’m old. Ask any 16 year old. Lol thanks for all the great information.

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