Aging and Single: A Trend in the U.S.

The boomers are all over the map when it comes to marriage, divorce, grandparenting, new parenting, gay parenting, adoptaparenting.  But one trend that seems to be growing by virtue of divorce is the aging single person.  I personally do not understand this trend.  Having just entered the world of “widowhood” choosing to go it alone is something I have a hard time grokking.  I do understand that there are all sorts of reasons why people separate.  But I also wonder, whether in our throw-away society, many of these separations might occur without long-term thought about consequences.  For example,  are people afraid that they will end up as caregivers?  My question then becomes: who is going to take care of them when they can no longer take care of themselves?

According to an article written by for The New York Times,

Over the past 20 years, the divorce rate among baby boomers has surged by more than 50 percent, even as divorce rates over all have stabilized nationally. At the same time, 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.

At some point, I think that we will have to recognize that we need to work together.  The fraying and continual fraying of relationships in, at least the United States, as exemplified with the above statistics, not to mention our political system, has got to reverse itself.  Our good friend William H. Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution states:

that many unmarried baby boomers will confront greater economic hardships than their married parents and grandparents, and their married counterparts. Many members of this generation, which has been battered by the recession, have fewer children and thinner financial cushions in savings and pensions.

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.

I am sure there are many single people that these statistics do not reflect.  However, with these realities looming, we are really going to have to work to come up with a viable alternative to aging in marriage as well as aging alone.  Marriage is not easy to maintain.  And with all the distractions keeping us from each other, ie, television, computers, etc.,  it is easy to believe that one is no longer living with someone one feels connected to.  On the other hand, if one once felt love for that person, there might still be something there worth cultivating and helping to grow.

For many, having financial independence is also a determinant as to whether a person remains in a relationship.  However, when we use that as the criteria, we may be making a big mistake in deciding to go it alone, unless, of course, we made poor choices to start.  Yet, I can’t help but reflect that the “idea” of having the freedom to determine your own schedule may seem worth the separation, that freedom is short lived; particularly if one is in their ’50’s when they decide to seek that freedom because anything can happen in a moment to make one become totally dependent on somebody else and this time it could be a total stranger — a stranger who will only care for you until the money runs out rather than an intimate who will take care of you out of love or obligation or both.  And yes, I know, these are generalities and life is nuanced.  And the reality is still that people are going it alone either by choice or by circumstances.  So that is why I am suggesting that we put our heads together and figure out a way not to grow old alone.

© Yvonne Behrens

Who Gets Grandma After the Divorce?


Who from my family will step up and care for me as I grow older? That is a question a lot of baby boomers are asking themselves. Because the prospects are scary.
In a study reported in Long-Term Care Magazine, divorce and remarriage is changing the role of adult children in caring for aging parents and the quality of family relationships is often trumping genetic ties argues a researcher from the University of Missouri.
Lawrence Ganong, a professor and co-chair at the university’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, found that relationship quality, a history of mutual help and resource availability influence decisions about who cares for parents and stepparents.
Ganong said: “How close family members are to each other, how much they have been helped by them in the past and what hardships caregiving might place on family members are important factors when people consider caring for older kin.”
Ganong and his research team presented study participants with hypothetical caregiving scenarios involving an aging parent or stepparent and a child or stepchild. Participants then responded to questions about their perceptions of who should provide care.
The majority of participants said biological factors are relevant in caregiving decisions, but they do not automatically require adult children to help older relatives.
“Based on what happens before, during and after marital transitions, family members may change what they think their responsibilities are regarding helping and providing care to kin,” Ganong said. “As a society that relies on families to provide much of the care for older adults, we need to better understand the effects of changes in families due to divorce and remarriage.”
Ganong recommended that middle-aged adults have honest conversations with parents and stepparents about expectations for caregiving and other types of assistance before needs arise.
Ganong’s study, “Who Gets Custody of Grandma After the Divorce? How Marital Transitions Affect Family Caregiving Responsibilities,” was funded by the National Institute on Aging.
So now I am praying that my stepson, whose mom I am divorced from, will stay married to my lovely daughter-in-law!