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April 16, 2012 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Baby Boomers facing bleak future - alone. 'Startling new statistics from Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) paint a bleak future for the largest generation in history, the baby boomers, as they cross into old age.'

'Using data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses and the 2009 round of the American Community Survey, Dr. I-Fen Lin, an associate professor of sociology, and Dr. Susan Brown, a professor of sociology and co-director of the NCFMR, found one-third of adults aged 45-63 are unmarried. This represents a more than 50 percent increase since 1980, when just 20 percent of middle-aged Americans were unmarried. Most single boomers are divorced or never married. In fact, one in three single baby boomers has never been married. Just 10 percent of unmarried boomers are widowed.'

'According to Brown, one in five single baby boomers is living in poverty compared to one in 20 for their married counterparts. Single boomers are twice as likely to be disabled, but they are also less likely to have health insurance.'

'Of particular concern is the large share of unmarried boomers who have never been married. According to the researchers, the probability of marrying for the first time during middle age is extremely low, meaning that nearly all of the never married boomers will remain unmarried. “The economic and health vulnerabilities of single boomers are concerning because boomers are now moving into old age when failing health becomes even more common and severe,” said Brown.'
posted by VikingSword (74 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
unmarried ≠ single ≠ alone
posted by unSane at 4:31 PM on April 16, 2012 [42 favorites]


Isn't marriage itself becoming less common across society?
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:32 PM on April 16, 2012


My father falls into that category,but he's happy being single and rather prefers being left alone.
posted by roboton666 at 4:32 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, being married generally plugs you into a support network. If you're alone you just end up chatting on Facebook and turning into a mummy.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:33 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


not only that but a lot of us don't have lawns and won't be able to tell kids to get off of them
posted by pyramid termite at 4:36 PM on April 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


This sounds like good news for the social security trust fund.
posted by humanfont at 4:38 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


We may have to construct special residences with special staff to take care of these folks. It seems likely that a minority of folks will be able to finance their stay such hypothetical facilities, while the vast majority will be warehoused in poorly funded public facilities. Who knows what the future will bring!
posted by KokuRyu at 4:45 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is bad news for the key party people.
posted by quadog at 4:47 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


America faces a choice in dealing with the Boomers-- import young people, or export old people.
posted by cell divide at 4:49 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


A bleak future alone ain't one half as fucked as a bleak future with an incompatible spouse. After my grandmother died my grandfather got married again to a woman from his hometown that he had known for forty years. During our last long conversation he advised me never to make that mistake. He very rarely gave me advice like that. It was the same tone of voice he had used when I got my first job out of college and he told me not to blindly trust the guys running the corporation and especially the bankers. This is a direct quote from that part:

"they ain't as smart as they think they are".
posted by bukvich at 4:49 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Japan: 'Lonely Deaths' Rise Among Unemployed, Elderly
In Japan, kodokushi, a phenomenon first described in the 1980s, has become hauntingly common. In 2008 in Tokyo, more than 2,200 people over 65 died lonely deaths, according to statistics from the city's Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health. The deaths most often involve men in their 50s and the nation's rapidly increasingly elderly population. Today, 1 in 5 Japanese is over 65; by 2030 it will be 1 in 3. With senior citizens increasingly living away from family and a nationwide shortage of nursing homes, many are now living alone.
posted by dhartung at 4:51 PM on April 16, 2012


They could make a movie about the Boomer experience of death called "The Big Chill".
posted by KokuRyu at 4:54 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I realize that the article is talking about the disadvantages of not having any support (in all senses) as you become old and sick, but the sort-of-demonization of being alone -- as if that's the worst thing imaginable -- is also curious. It reminds me of that passage from Kierkegaard (you know the one -- from Sickness Unto Death).
posted by anothermug at 5:07 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know two guys in their late 40s who have never been married, no kids, no current serious relationships. They're attractive and educated and mentally stable, so I'm sure they could find someone to settle down with if they wanted to, but for whatever reason they don't. One is an immigrant who has no family in the US. Both have health issues that are likely to become serious in the next decade, and I wonder what will happen to them.
posted by desjardins at 5:07 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kierkegaard: " In the constant sociability of our age people shudder at solitude to such a degree that they know no other use to put it to but (oh, admirable epigram!) as a punishment for criminals. But after all it is a fact that in our age it is a crime to have spirit, so it is natural that such people, the lovers of solitude, are included in the same class with criminals."
posted by anothermug at 5:13 PM on April 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


somethingsomethingBowlingGreenStateUniversityAlone
posted by nushustu at 5:19 PM on April 16, 2012


Half of the individuals in a long term, loving, committed relationship/marriage, will end up alone...and then they will die (too).

think about it.... and, after you do, what's the big deal here?
posted by HuronBob at 5:19 PM on April 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


I guess the issue is, since we tend to live much much much longer, it's all about quality of life. In the past - even in my parents' generation who were born around 1940 - people tended to remarry and tended to have children. While by no means perfect or ideal, intergenerational families tend to provide a support network, which can include everything from emotional support to financial support, or even daily care for an aged parent (this alone is why nursing homes are ideal).

If you're older and living alone chances are you are not going to get the help you need, and your quality of life will diminish, which is no small thing.

I actually sit on the board of a volunteer organization committed to assisting solitary seniors with all sorts of things. The town I live in is the warmest place in Canada - no snow in the winter means that many, many seniors end up retiring here, far away from family.

Without a little help, the older they get the more problems they have from everything from banking to grocery shopping to buying clothes - all things that a spouse or family can help with back home.

So, yeah, practically speaking, solitary seniors will likely experience lower quality of life. If they didn't I wouldn't have to sit on the board of the org.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:29 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm in this group of people and so are a surprising number of people I know. With no effort I can name 20 close friends and family members that are never married and middle-aged. Most of us want relationships but for a variety of reasons haven't met anyone to settle down with. All of us have had relationships; there's nothing wrong with us but for whatever reason we've found ourselves alone. It's harder to meet people when you get older.

And I do wonder about old age for myself and my friends without kids. I have several single friends that are only children. I've got a few nieces and nephews that will hopefully throw me a bone but I don't think I should count on it.

People who are married or living together tend to be better off financially and that can make a tremendous difference in terms of quality of life. My 50 year-old friend that lost her corporate job over 2 years ago and is now working retail had to move in with her mother. That's not so hard to bear if you're in your 20s but is a tough pill to swallow in your 50s. I had to sell my house when I could no longer afford the payments, taxes, HOA dues. Certainly these things happen to those living with someone but a second income, even a small one, would have made a huge difference.
posted by shoesietart at 5:49 PM on April 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


> My 50 year-old friend that lost her corporate job over 2 years ago and is now working retail had to move in with her mother.

I know more than one case where the process where they got to be 50 and unmarried was they put their job first, then after they turned 50 the company decided they were overpaid and axed them. It can be nearly impossible to find another equal paying job at that age, so they are more than a little bitter and disillusioned by the whole experience. The corporate masters extracted the maximum surplus just like they were caricatures out of Marx' Capital.
posted by bukvich at 6:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's two assumptions here that are irritating:

1. Not being partnered/having kids is bad because we all do better with a support network
2. The only way to have a support network is being partnered/having kids.

Perhaps this is just another downside of patriarchy; we've been dependent for centuries on the unpaid labor of women working at home to deal with things like childcare, domestic duties, and elder care. Now we either pay for it or it falls through the cracks. If we hadn't set things up on such a slave labor basis in the first place, maybe we'd have come up with better solutions by now that didn't require so much rethinking of the way we live.

Anyhoo, here we are. Eldercommunes? Better social service networks supporting elder independence? It's that or the crappy old folks' home, so it's really up to us what we care about.
posted by emjaybee at 6:17 PM on April 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


No mention of single gay boomers. That could account for 3-5% or so.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 6:20 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had to sell my house when I could no longer afford the payments, taxes, HOA dues.

Why did you need a house as a single individual?
posted by spicynuts at 6:21 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Link to the study.
posted by kithrater at 6:21 PM on April 16, 2012


At 50 I've begun to be fearful about this, since listening to a pre-Christmas radio documentary on poverty, where it was stated that one of the largest blocks of poverty is made of isolated individuals aged 45 to 60. I've always kept to myself, bumbling at finding work and ways to participate in the world, always relying on my ability to live frugally and save money. I'm watching my parents' health fail and seeing how reliant they are on each other at that stage. Now struggling to read small print, I wonder how I'll manage when some more significant impact of aging hits. What then when I need to dedicate a monthly chunk of cash to medication, when it becomes harder to save money by walking long distances or riding a bike? How willing will another person be to rent cheap space in a house to someone old and alone?

So many long-term single people I've known are well-educated and intelligent but never seem to get it together, bouncing laterally or backwards around the job market or serially returning to school while renting with roommates, always dependent on next week's cheque. Meanwhile, those who married early and acquired all the expenses of children and mortgages often reach middle-age with surprising financial stability. It's never made sense to me, except that having the family and all its demands forces people to stick with employment situations they'd walk away from if single. Or maybe a significant proportion of single people are dealing with social, anxiety, depression issues that make it difficult for them to thrive in many avenues of life.
posted by TimTypeZed at 6:23 PM on April 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


And I do wonder about old age for myself and my friends without kids.

A few days ago, on one of the discussion boards I frequent, the topic of "kids as retirement strategy" came up, and a lively discussion ensued. Today, I came across this study, and thought it interesting, so I made it into an FPP.

But back to the "kids as retirement strategy" - even in this thread, this issue has been hinted at. Opinions are, needless to say, extremely divided.

There are those who maintain, that whatever other benefits kids bring, from a strictly economic point of view, kids make a lousy bet as far as a retirement strategy. You spend tens - or hundreds - of thousands, depending on where you live, over some 20 years, on raising a kid. Compounded, over time, had you invested that money, you'd end up with a considerable chunk. And that's without taking into account continued support that some parents extend to kids far into adulthood - financing college, down payments on cars or house, financial help with grandkids etc. There's of course the opportunity cost of high risk, high reward ventures or career options foregone because supporting kids took understandable priority.

The broader issue is how reliable is such support? A lot of kids lose contact with their parents, or have no desire or ability to support their elders.

It's hard to get ahold of numbers, but while perhaps the majority(?) of kids end up helping their parents in retirement, it's really quite some gamble. The costs of raising kids is a sure thing - the payoff much less so.
posted by VikingSword at 6:25 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something about correlation and causation. As more people decline to marry and as the poorer (i.e. non-Boomer) generations age, the number of "poor" never-marrieds compared to their married counterparts will likely even off. I'd put money on it but as an old Gen-Xer, I'll probably have kicked the bucket in my lonely flat of squalor by then. But at least I won't have married simply out of fear of being alone when I'm old, which I think was a big motivator in olden times (i.e. the 20th century).

On preview, emjaybee is spot-on. The study shouldn't have focused so much on marriage as on the support given older parents by their (usually but not always female) children.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:26 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


quadog writes "This is bad news for the key party people."

Seems like it would be an advantage; no chance of getting your SO's key.

spicynuts writes "Why did you need a house as a single individual?"

Keeps the rain off.
posted by Mitheral at 6:31 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


It appears that they don't differentiate between divorced and never married (lumped together), and it would seem to me that the costs of marrying/divorcing would be a lot higher than the stability of never marrying. Add kids and time out of the workforce to that, and the lifetime earning power of divorced people would be even lower.
posted by headnsouth at 6:32 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why did you need a house as a single individual?
There's this thing where The Man wants you to own a house and so deducting mortgage interest is a really handy savings come tax time.

I'm sure it's the foresight our country is known for that we're hell-bent on dismantling what remains of the public safety net just in time for a massive cohort of people to age and need that support.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:34 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


On preview, emjaybee is spot-on. The study shouldn't have focused so much on marriage as on the support given older parents by their (usually but not always female) children.

The study should have studied something else? The study's argument is:

1. unmarried people have worse socio-economic outcomes;
2. old unmarried people have especially bad socio-economic outcomes;
3. baby-boomers have a disproportionately high amount of unmarried people;
4. baby-boomers are getting old; so therefore
5. there are going to be significant pressures on social spending to take care of the old unmarried baby-boomers.

It appears that they don't differentiate between divorced and never married (lumped together),

From the abstract:
Unmarried Boomers faced greater economic, health, and social vulnerabilities compared to married Boomers. Divorced Boomers had more economic resources and better health than widowed and never-married Boomers. Widows appeared to be the most disadvantaged among Boomer women, whereas nevermarrieds were the least advantaged among Boomer men.
posted by kithrater at 6:38 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm kind of counting on Meatbomb's commune.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:38 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My 93-year-old mother still keeps her own house, still drives, is still very active in her community. Recently, her 93-year-old husband had a stroke and has been in a nursing home for a few months. She says it's like a vacation for her, because she no longer has to take care of him, cook for him, clean up after him, etc. She is really loving living alone for the first time in decades.

Now that her husband has recovered a little, they've decided that since he can't be left alone, he won't be returning to the house and they will both move to an assisted living home. She's not so sure she wants to go - it appeals to her that she won't ever have to cook again, but it means she will have to give up the solitude she's enjoyed so much.

So I am not buying this "solitary older people are to be pitied" crap. It seems as though society tries to convince you all your life that you will be miserable unless you are married to/living with someone. I've never found that to be true, and I don't buy the "omg I'm going to die alone" nonsense either. Everyone dies alone.

Also:
Why did you need a house as a single individual?

What an odd question. Why do you have to be coupled to need a house? Single people own houses for the same reasons couples do - for the investment, for the privacy, for the tax advantage, so they can paint the walls any color they want, to put down roots in a neighborhood, so they can plant a garden and make whatever improvements they like, to avoid being subject to the whims of a landlord. I own a house because I like owning a house.
posted by caryatid at 6:39 PM on April 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm kind of counting on Meatbomb's commune.


Having seen how he plays Nomic, I can only say

a) dear God, no

b) do NOT under any circumstances drink the Kool Aid
posted by unSane at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of counting on Meatbomb's commune.

I've talked seriously with a close friend about forming one once our respective kids reach adulthood. We are both married, we both come from small families, we both had one child each, we have no other close family members of our age other than our respective spouses. I'm about as loner as a married loner can get yet the idea of shacking up with my longtime friend and pooling our resources as we dodder into our elder years is very appealing and hopefully, will lessen the amount we ping our kids.
posted by jamaro at 6:55 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's actually a fascinating idea. Are there any actual examples of elder communes?
posted by unSane at 6:56 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clearly a new mefi project in the making.
posted by ead at 7:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the idea of more communes. Do it up single-boomers; your conservative peers certainly aren't going to.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:08 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there any actual examples of elder communes?

Yes.

Growing Old Together, in New Kind of Commune
A Smaller, Kinder Way to Retire
Communes for Grownups
posted by caryatid at 7:10 PM on April 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


If only the boomers were a fraction as interested with the younger generations as they seem to be with the boomers.
posted by crunchland at 7:14 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes

Wow, that's great. Also -- there's a great movie in there somewhere.
posted by unSane at 7:15 PM on April 16, 2012


unmarried ≠ single ≠ alone

Of the household arrangements of the "unmarried", 57.07 per cent are alone, 8.82 per cent have unmarried partners with or without a child, 24.83 per cent have a child without a partner, and 9.29 per cent have are "other", which presumably means living with other relatives or non-relatives.

Assuming that the basic premise of "being alone is correlated to worse socio-economic outcomes" is correct, then the already dismal results for the unmarrieds would be significantly worse if we removed the uplifting influence of the non-alones.
posted by kithrater at 7:34 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm so sick of marital shaming shit like this. Look, sometimes folks can't catch a man (or woman), or can't do so for life. So I guess we're all doomed? I guess we should all do euthanasia when we hit 65? What was that statistic about marriage and terrorists again?

Seriously, I'm sick of hearing shit like this. What am I supposed to do when I hit 40 and still have no man? HEY DEVIL! I WILL TOTALLY SELL YOU MY SOUL IF YOU CATCH ME A MAN!...Right.

Oh, and these days if you count on your kids as a retirement plan, odds are your 50-year-old kid will be moving back in with you, unable to get a job. So I see that's going well.

You know what? Some people will figure out solutions ("urban tribes") to solve their unhappily single/no wife/slave to take care of them problem, or go into a home, or the worst happens. But shoot, the worst won't happen to every single baby boomer on the planet. People who want to figure out something and have friends will do that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:37 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


To point out the blindingly obvious - having a spouse and/or children is no guarantee of care in old age. Your spouse could predecease you or become too disabled themselves to provide care. A spouse who has been indifferent or outright abusive for fifty years is not going to magically turn around and become a loving caregiver.

Your kids could be estranged, disabled, die before you, or simply be so busy with their own families that they have little time for you.

Some of the saddest situations occur when very elderly parents have a child who is too disabled to live on their own. These parents, for instance. And the ninetysomething woman in this article caring for her fiftysomething son.

This is not a new situation: the London Lives database has thousands of workhouse records, receipts for poor relief, etc. and most of these people had no-one but the state (such as it was) and private charity to care for them.

Emjaybee is right - the current system is built upon the idea that women would be happy to (or at least feel strongly obligated to) care for anyone who needs it, for free. Now that women have options outside of marriage or care work, the system is crumbling.

On preview: what jenfullmoon said. Down with marital shaming! I'm single and childless. And at least I don't have any illusions that my spouse and/or kids will be happy to care for me and then find out they would rather drain my bank account and run off to Aruba and leave me lying in my own shit. Say, King Lear - how did that "my kids will take care of me" idea work out for you? I say "bring back the beguinages" - taking away the religious angle and making them co-ed.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:42 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


My personal plan is to move out when the hut smokes.
posted by winna at 7:51 PM on April 16, 2012


I suppose anecdotal reports never get old for some people.

Yes, let us talk about marital shaming and just forget that 1 in 5 unmarried boomers are living in poverty and most of them will die very much alone. Thanks for sharing everybody!
posted by Shit Parade at 7:59 PM on April 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


A study on data from the US Census Bureau that shows married households have better socio-economic outcomes than non-married households = martial shaming? Help me through the logic here.

If you read the report, the conclusion is not "everyone should get married". The conclusion is "we need more social services to take care of a group of people who will have extremely poor socio-economic outcomes".
Unmarried Boomers are a diverse group, with various risk profiles that must be recognized by health care providers, social service agencies, and other forms of institutional support to ensure that all Boomers age well and that society is able to provide adequate services to all Boomers, regardless of marital status.
posted by kithrater at 8:22 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I see frail old people crossing major thoroughfares with their walkers and they clearly can't move fast enough to get to the other side before the light changes. It's disheartening to see such vulnerable people trying to get to the corner store or Walgreens or wherever, not only at high risk of being run over but also of being hit over the head and robbed. I do not want this to be my future.

I was hospitalized for a week last year. Fortunately, my neighbor was able to take care of my dog and make a trip to the grocery store for me when I got out. I don't know how I would have managed without that help. I'm not frail or elderly, just asthmatic, but it was uncomfortable relying on a nice guy's kindness.

I don't think that being alone means being pitied. But I do like companionship and sex as do my friends and not having either sucks. It doesn't mean we cry ourselves to sleep. We know how to lead fulfilling lives. A lot of singles create families out of friends, myself included, but that's a more precarious social contract than familial/marital ties. I'm currently supporting my brother. He's been living with me for six months with no job. He has no source of income. He's not married, nearly 50 and has a teenage daughter (who lives in a different state with her mother). I take care of him because he's my brother. There aren't many friends I would count on to do this for me.

A study on data from the US Census Bureau that shows married households have better socio-economic outcomes than non-married households = martial shaming? Help me through the logic here.
I think this article does both. Reading it made me feel like shit for not being married with children and that I was going to be a lonely, cat food-eating old lady.
posted by shoesietart at 8:44 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm hoping I can afford a houseboy when I get older. Just somebody to talk to and find me if I slip and die in the shower.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:20 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grumpy old geek: No mention of single gay boomers. That could account for 3-5% or so.

Whether you're a single gay boomer or a partnered gay boomer, it makes little difference (unless you're independently wealthy or have a family or friends who accept you and care enough for you to care for you as you get too old to take care of yourself or afford your own care). Legally (in the US), if you're gay, you're in trouble as you get older. If laws were to change to equalize same-sex and opposite-sex commitments, it'd be no guarantee of anything, to be sure, but leveling the field wouldn't hurt.

crunchland: If only the boomers were a fraction as interested with the younger generations as they seem to be with the boomers.

Believe it or not, everybody gets old eventually. The interest is not "with the boomers," the interest is with how we as a society treat people who are aging. Like it or not, that's what happening to the boomers. And in the US, at least, we clearly have not a single freaking workable commonly-agreed clue what we're going to do to help the coming wave of boomers who will eventually be dependent on the tender mercies of our "I've got mine, screw you" culture. (I know: a good portion of that ethos is one that emanates from some boomers themselves -- ones who seem to have no interest in their own generation, let alone younger generations or future generations.)

No clue, that is, other than to rattle on about how the boomers should have figured it out for themselves before they got old, or better yet how they should have died before they got old, to lift a line from an ancient Pete Townshend lyric.
posted by blucevalo at 9:56 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


...kids make a lousy bet as far as a retirement strategy. You spend tens - or hundreds - of thousands, depending on where you live, over some 20 years, on raising a kid. Compounded, over time, had you invested that money, you'd end up with a considerable chunk.

Though, in the aggregate, if a too large fraction chose to save that money rather than spend it to raise kids, saving would turn out to be an awful retirement strategy, even if all the kids hate their parents and refuse to support them. It doesn't matter how much money you have if no one is selling what you need (help during your old age).
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:25 PM on April 16, 2012


I married and started my family late in life after figuring I would just be a loner til the end. I enjoy the "us" we have created immensely.

My plan for old age and/or infirmity was, I kid you not, eat a pistol when I got too sick to enjoy anything. Angle the barrel right and you're home-free. Expressionist artwork on the wall behind isn't able to process regret or guilt or anything. If I somehow lost everybody and everything, that's plan C.

I've helped take care of oldies, diapers, bedsores and all. One bang's way more dignified.
posted by codswallop at 11:46 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think being alone can be wonderful an rewarding for many people and there is not reason to assume that the elderly unmarried folk don't want to be that way.

However-- being alone, unable to care for yourself, and unable to do anything about the lack of support is not something to romanticize. It can be certain people's ideal, but I don't think we need to pretend that it's wonderful living alone with no one to talk to, or visit you, or care for you no matter how desperately you might yearn for connection or help. (No matter the age, but elerly people more often have genuine impairments to doing anything about their desire for social connection or interaction)

Problems with the framing and specifics of this are fine to point out, but the reality of people who are isolated, unable to care for themselves, and very much do wish to still be cared about socially and have help to make it through their lives with impaired functioning is a very real problem that shouldn't be diminished by the realities of happy people living alone.

I also think there is nothing in the world like having someone visit you because they want to, as opposed to being paid. I'm not sure financial models of paying people to be companions/caregivers will ever mean the same thing as having someone care about you because they value caring about you. Maybe it's possible to fix that with a financial model-- I certainly think we can use both financially paid labor in caregiving and also voluntary mutually beneficial relationship.

It would be interesting to find out more details about how elderly people, both married and not, actually feel about their lives and what sorts of things they wish and hope were available for support (and whether they do or dont feel happy about being married or not?). That could potentially help generate more feedback to create programs that might deliver services that would actually help (or avoid assuming help is needed if it is not.)

I also feel curious what the quality of life/socioeconomic/health status measures are for unmarried elderly people who are actually living alone rather than just unmarried.
posted by xarnop at 5:42 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you're going to do the "bad stuff happens to everyone!" response to a demographic fact, maybe raise your hand to let us know if you're a member of the demographic. The defensiveness on display here is giving the obesity threads a run for their money

Beyond that, it just saddens me how resolute some seem in their defense of being alone. Having deep, meaningful emotional and physical contact with other people on a regular basis is one of the most fundamental human needs, and people who go without it are never really mentally healthy

I've met a number of old people who aren't retiring or have gone back to work, not because they need the money or really even like the job, but just for something to do. This includes married ones. If you can't think of anything more meaningful to do with your waning years than work for the man, please, please take 5g dried psilocybin mushrooms once a month until the problem resolves. For everyone's sake
posted by crayz at 6:24 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's kind of amazing/alarming to read many of the anecdotal reactions here. This is about statistics/demographics, folks, not an ideological attack on your personal life choices and philosophies.

I imagine that those with the social/tech savvy to be active mefites will probably do just fine in their later years (overall.) My worry is for the significant many who are not so fortunate and skilled at building social support networks for themselves. Yes, biological family is no guarantee of future happiness, but tends to be a "built-in" source of a support network for elders that needs to be somehow replaced if we are going to systematically unravel it like we have been doing over the last few decades.

I read this, not as a smug married person, but as a family and adult minister. And I'm left thinking, "Shit, we need to accelerate building our support ministries for elders and their caregivers." If you are concerned about how to meet the needs of a future suffering world, this is sobering stuff. To hell with the "culture wars" and what it may or may not say about personal life choices.
posted by cross_impact at 6:27 AM on April 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


If movies have taught me anything, regardless of the outpouring of love I receive in my life I am still going to die totally and utterly alone.
So there's that.
posted by Theta States at 6:39 AM on April 17, 2012


I need to point something out here, for middle-aged and older disabled people, getting legally married or even living together might be impossible because of how Social Security and SSI/SSD work. There are perverse incentives against marriage in these social programs. Yes in many ways having a partner is good, provided you get along and can actually be of help to each other.
I have been lucky enough to find someone late in life. Nit everyone is.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:48 AM on April 17, 2012


Yes, biological family is no guarantee of future happiness, but tends to be a "built-in" source of a support network for elders that needs to be somehow replaced if we are going to systematically unravel it like we have been doing over the last few decades.

The big problem is that this family safety net has been unraveled largely due to women gaining freedom - freedom to have professional careers, freedom to not marry (and still have sex, live alone, travel and so on), freedom to choose not to have children, and most importantly, freedom from being forced to do care work (though that one we're still working on!). These are all absolutely good things for women and society. The "good old days" were terrible for most women (and men, and children).

But, as emjaybee said above, the family safety net was mostly woven from women's unpaid care work. Oops! What can replace it? It's going to take a lot of thought and effort. With the way the political climate is leaning, I'm not counting on any strengthening of the public safety net. It will probably have to be some kind of private effort, co-housing or some such thing. I hope that "revive the workhouse" isn't on the agenda, but you never know.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:24 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


But, as emjaybee said above, the family safety net was mostly woven from women's unpaid care work. Oops! What can replace it?

Yes, I mostly agree with your take. Women do have a greater amount of autonomy and that is most definitely a good thing. The side effect, though, is that family has unraveled. If everyone has the autonomy to do/choose what works for them, it is not surprising that individualism flourishes while support networks tear under the strain.

A better vision by far is that all this unpaid care work be self-donated by autonomous men and women who understand that the directive of love should be balanced with one's personal freedom. A family held together by "forced" care is not the vision, but neither is autonomy out of balance with mutual responsibility for our families and neighbors. You have to have autonomy in order to make the moral choice of self-donation. My problem is that the former does not guarantee the latter, and the lack of the latter is the real problem.
posted by cross_impact at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


VERNON
You think about this...when you get
old, these kids; when I get old,
they're gonna be runnin' the country.

CARL
Yeah?

VERNON
Now this is the thought that wakes
me up in the middle of the night...
That when I get older, these kids
are gonna take care of me...

CARL
I wouldn't count on it!

posted by markkraft at 9:12 AM on April 17, 2012


I read this thread last night and then I read it again from the top just now. These are such energizing issues that I am still confused how my Ebeneezer Scrooge Christmas present ask metafilter question only got one answer. (It is still open, by the way.)
posted by bukvich at 10:37 AM on April 17, 2012


Beyond that, it just saddens me how resolute some seem in their defense of being alone. Having deep, meaningful emotional and physical contact with other people on a regular basis is one of the most fundamental human needs, and people who go without it are never really mentally healthy

And it's one thing that is sorely lacking in modern Western society, whether you're resolute in your defense of being alone or not. It doesn't seem to me that there are scads of people actively resisting abundant opportunities for meaningful social contact as much as there are countervailing forces (technological, social, political) acting against meaningful social contact as well as vanishing opportunities for such contact.
posted by blucevalo at 11:03 AM on April 17, 2012


And it's one thing that is sorely lacking in modern Western society, whether you're resolute in your defense of being alone or not. It doesn't seem to me that there are scads of people actively resisting abundant opportunities for meaningful social contact as much as there are countervailing forces (technological, social, political) acting against meaningful social contact as well as vanishing opportunities for such contact.

Western society. Technological forces.

Wait, I think I see a connection!

For better or worse (seems obviously: for better), technology has been central to Western society since at least the industrial revolution. We tend to favor technological solutions, though sometimes that's a simplistic approach to complex issues. Nonetheless, technology can be immensely empowering, and I think it's applicable here as well.

As has already been hinted at above, social isolation is not the same kind of a problem as once upon a time, with the development of the internet. Today, whether you are in a small village, or a large city, you can have contact with your friends or loved ones and geographical distance is not an obstacle. If you want to see and talk to someone in real time, you just skype, no need to undertake a perilous journey on foot; you are not limited to the horse and buggy and letter writing with multi-week turnaround as ships sail the oceans. You can make friends with strangers on the net, and you can pursue your interests and engage socially on specialty boards.

Yes, there is the digital divide and economic factors, but I'm talking strictly technology, as in what is already technically possible, or soon will be.

Even in personal care, progress has been made. E-medicine has made tremendous progress. Japanese scientists have managed to install sensors in clothing, toilets, toothbrushes and so on, and can measure biomarkers and track your health and alert your physician and remind you to take your medication and in general, it's like having a doctor on call 24/7. Successful trials were held with physicians on video-consultations with patients, less need to visit the office.

Down the road - and I'm dead serious - is true AI and robotics. Of course, that's probably a pretty distant future, and certainly not applicable to baby boomers or anyone alive today for that matter, most likely, but it's the principle we're discussing: technological solutions.

Thus, as an optimist, I think this is a solvable problem - in the future. I welcome silicon-based companionship and robotic nurses - though only in my mind's eye for now.

IOW - hurray for Western society! Our problems are not technological in nature, but political, economic and educational. And those are always much harder to solve.
posted by VikingSword at 11:47 AM on April 17, 2012


I used to joke that, among my four kids, I should have one train to be a nurse and one to be a handyman, and then we could set up a retirement home with a special wing just for my wife & I. Now…maybe not so funny any more. (And with four, maybe one can be the bookkeeper!)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:16 PM on April 17, 2012


Speaking of Japan, they are also looking to a future of fewer young people to care for the elderly and disabled. Women are rebelling against traditional subordinate roles and are remaining unmarried and childless in droves. The Japanese seem to be working to solve this technologically (as VikingSword mentioned).

I know that many other countries are experiencing a similar phenomenon as the linked article - fewer people marry and have children. When women become educated and gain economic, social and reproductive rights, many choose to have fewer children. Paradoxically, the Scandinavian countries, with their strong social safety nets, appear to have more children, with or without marriage. I'd be interested to find out what other countries are going to do about aging Boomers and elders in general who have no young relatives nearby.

The linked paper also states that, with women, the worst off are not never-married women - the most impoverished are widows. My take-away is that it's bad luck, not bad planning or selfishness, that creates worst-case scenarios. These women "did the right thing" and got married, but oops, the best laid plans of mice and women, etc...Counting on a spouse to be there in your old age won't work, especially for women, who on average outlive men.

I think that technology and social media will help alleviate some of the disconnection and loneliness. I've talked to people who are disabled and shut-in, and many say that the Internet has saved their lives by giving them human contact that they otherwise would not have had.

The problem, as I see it, is making up for the in-person, time-consuming care work that women formerly undertook out of a sense of obligation. Caring for an older relative can be a difficult slog with little reward and it's hard to get someone to take that on voluntarily. Women who have come of age in the 70's and later, thanks to the second and later waves of feminism, have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms - much as white, middle-class and wealthy men have been able to, because the latter always had that unpaid, female scaffolding. We're floundering trying to replace that scaffolding.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:31 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Katjusa Roquette points out the thing that's been bothering me throughout this thread: correlation is not causation, and even when there is a causal link, it doesn't tell us which direction it goes in. If 1 in 5 unmarried boomers are living in poverty, is that because being unmarried makes you poor, or because being poor makes you less marriageable? Or is there some third factor that just ruined life for 1 in 5 boomers in general?
posted by baf at 12:58 PM on April 17, 2012


I think that technology and social media will help alleviate some of the disconnection and loneliness. I've talked to people who are disabled and shut-in, and many say that the Internet has saved their lives by giving them human contact that they otherwise would not have had.

This really can't be said enough. For all the hand-waving and fear-mongering about Facebook, et al. making us lonelier, they have amazing power for people who would otherwise find themselves lonely.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:10 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Japan, they are also looking to a future of fewer young people to care for the elderly and disabled. Women are rebelling against traditional subordinate roles and are remaining unmarried and childless in droves. The Japanese seem to be working to solve this technologically

All the robots you see used in Japan (Asimo etc) are purely for investor relations. My mother-in-law, who is in her mid-70s and suffered a stroke 5 years ago, lives in a private care facility (ie, she pays more out of pocket for a better place to live).

So, in her top-of-class facility, there is no automation. It's just cleaner (she was in a state-run hospital for a bit, which was adequate) and nicer. But the staff are still paid minimum wage. Indeed, many of the staff were my students at junior high school from the early 2000s...

Japan's innovation is this regard is state-run "homecare insurance", which means older folks can afford to have someone come in and look after their needs. It's not much of an innovation, as in Canada we already have the same thing.

Usually advancements in technology for elders go to the health system, which has an infinite ability to pay for new medical technologies to prolong life.

For care homes, technology is usually centered around building automation and sensing, and IT.

But not robots. TV is your friend anyway at that age.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2012


One other thing I might add about Japan is that single, unmarried women in Japan, no matter what their age, tend live at or below the poverty level.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:55 PM on April 17, 2012


Elder communes? NO! No! NO! No! NO! No! NO! No!

Because NO!
posted by smcdow at 3:05 PM on April 17, 2012


Yes. Your cat will eat you when you die.
posted by crunchland at 3:46 PM on April 17, 2012


Are there any actual examples of elder communes?

My mother had one picked out, it was to be a circle of small freestanding brick apartments opening on a joint courtyard, that included a kitchen and day room complex. She had been accepted and the financing almost worked, until the need to sell her house and get into a more traditional elder care facility overcame that goal, due to immediate circumstances.

The thing was, this complex was planned, the land was bought and the facility was designed. It needed a certain amount of shares to go forward, and they had those commitments. The group had all met in person. But timing can be pretty urgent at that stage of life. Heart valve replacement surgery came up unexpectedly, precipitating a stroke. She could have still handled it, once she had a bit of rehab for the ataxia, but that boat had sailed.

So, the better plan might be to just start building it ourselves now, so at least the foundations are poured, before things start getting too real. I'm pretty handy with reinforced concrete, BTW.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:44 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have read about / know anecdata about older couples who've gotten together after one or both of them were widowed, and who then stay together but don't get married so they can continue to collect the pension from their deceased spouses. Which makes economic sense: if you're of retiree age, a new marriage isn't going to bring the same potential to build long-term financial stability as it would in your thirties or so.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:14 AM on April 22, 2012


I have read about / know anecdata about older couples who've gotten together after one or both of them were widowed, and who then stay together but don't get married so they can continue to collect the pension from their deceased spouses. Which makes economic sense: if you're of retiree age, a new marriage isn't going to bring the same potential to build long-term financial stability as it would in your thirties or so.

My mother did this. If she had remarried before she turned 55 she would have lost my father's death benefit/annuity. It was fascinating to watch her hardcore Catholicism transform into a moral relativism when rationalizing "living in sin" with my stepfather before marrying him. In a sense, having sex outside of marriage for money. Not that I cared, but this was the same woman who had judged me quite harshly for having platonic male roommates.
posted by headnsouth at 7:30 AM on April 22, 2012


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