Living alone is a pretty modern marvel (especially if it’s on purpose). Back in the 1960s, a household of one was atypical, and, some might even say conspicuous, depending on the circumstances. In fact, somewhere around only 7 million adults, nationwide, lived alone in those days.
Fast forward to the 2020s – over 26 million over the age of 50 are living alone (according to a recent report by the New York Times).
More aging adults today are choosing to live the solo life intentionally. Sociologist, Markus Schafer of Baylor University says that “there is this huge, kind of explosive social and demographic change happening,” referring to modern attitudes regarding gender roles and marriage.
It’s true. Statistically, women have more opportunities in the workforce than ever before, making them more likely to exert their financial independence (over 60% of those older adults who live alone are women). And, let’s face it – the divorce rate for adults over 50 has actually doubled since the 1990s (Pew Research Center).
Still, there are other not-so-intentional reasons Americans over 50 are flying solo. Those reasons include the death of a spouse, no children, or no nearby living relatives.
Whether intentional or not, living alone at 50 and beyond usually raises the question – should you continue to live alone?
And, well, the answer to that depends…
The times, they are a-changing. Societal changes have inevitably changed the perceptions of those who have divorced, never married, or never had children. A divorcee in the 1960s may have gone to live with a friend or relative after a split, whereas today, they often choose to stay alone. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology found that “with advancing age, partnership status became less predictive of loneliness, and the satisfaction with being single increased.” In other words, as generations have passed, contentment with being single has risen. Those 26 million Americans over 50 who live alone? Well, a great deal of them are just fine with it!
Why stay alone? Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. In fact, there are plenty of enticing reasons one might choose solo dwelling. Think freedom and independence. Freedom to do what you want when you want. Eat, cook, clean, go out, come home…all on your own schedule of whatever you decide is right for you. You can structure your daily social and recreational activities to suit your lifestyle choices. Spend money the way you see fit. Make decisions on your own terms.
Those who choose to live a single life often feel just as empowered, fulfilled, and enriched as those who are partnered up. It’s a lifestyle choice. And, a respectable one at that.
Those who haven’t made the deliberate choice to live alone run the risk of feeling social isolation and loneliness. What’s more, having no one to share expenses with can be distressing. These days, we know that mental health is just as important as physical. And, there’s substantial evidence from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to suggest that isolation and feelings of loneliness are associated with an increased risk of developing all kinds of conditions like high blood pressure, anxiety, obesity, dementia, and heart disease (to name just a few).
Still, nearly one-fourth of adults over 65 are considered to be socially isolated.
The most straightforward prescription for loneliness is socialization; but, what if you don’t have any family or friends who live nearby? A few places you can look to for help are:
When it comes to solo dwelling after the age of 50, clearly there are some pros and cons, depending on your situation. And, there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether you should continue living alone. That said, if you do live alone, here are some tips to help you live your best solo life:
Keeping in contact with others will keep you feeling connected. Talk to someone every day, even if it’s not in person! Talk on the phone, over the internet, or on a video call with friends, family, and grandkids. You might even consider joining Facebook groups for people with similar interests as yourself to find new friends.
Volunteering is another perfect way to stay involved. Community centers, food pantries, and thrift shops are always looking for extra help! Engage with others and meet new people all while feeling good about serving a greater purpose.
Yes, we mean exercise. Don’t forget to keep moving and work out your mind too! Staying active both physically and mentally will help you maintain your independence longer. If you’re looking for a program, start with Silver Sneakers, or check out these tips for improving memory!
Eating a balanced diet, sticking to routines, and taking care of your appearance are all ways to feel good. Even better, these are things that keep you feeling in control which, in turn, contributes to a positive attitude. Ever hear the phrase “look good, feel good?” There’s actual science to back that up. Basically, when you routinely take care of yourself, you just feel better.
Whether you’ve just landed in midlife or you’re far beyond, safety is always an important part of living your best life! Do you have any mobility issues? Maybe an increased risk of developing certain conditions later on? Take steps to keep yourself safe by regularly assessing your home for things like fall risks, faulty wiring, and gas leaks (if you don’t know what to look for, consider hiring a certified aging-in-place specialist or enlisting a family member, friend, or neighbor for a little help getting started). Also, make sure you’re taking any prescribed medications regularly, and speaking up to your doctor when something feels off.
Take a class. Learn a new technology. Pursue a hobby. There’s no day like today to try new things. And, as an aging adult, new tricks can be learned and your intellectual and social health can benefit! Who knows? You may even discover a passion you never knew you had!
Advance planning is important to make sure your family has all of the information they need to make decisions if necessary in the future. If you’re ever temporarily or permanently incapacitated, who would you want to make your decisions? Think about this question carefully, and then partner with an elder law attorney to create financial and health power of attorneys.
Whether you live alone or with a partner, or, actively seeking a roomie, here are some resources to check out:
Originally published August 31, 2023