STRONG SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE AND PROPENSITY FOR BEING LONELY, BUT INDEPENDENT ADULTS MAY RUN AMUCK
We already know that loneliness is hard. Life without family and friends can be lifeless, but it becomes increasingly difficult as we get older. Studies show that a strong social relationships boost a person’s chances of staying alive by 50 percent, according to a comprehensive 2010 review of 148 studies that followed 309,000 people for an average of 7.5 years.
That’s about the same improvement to mortality as the one that comes from quitting smoking.It’s unclear if Americans are lonelier now than in the past, but they’re more independent than ever. A shocking statistic, almost half of U.S. adults are now single. Americans are waiting longer and longer to get married, they’re having smaller families, and about half of all marriages still end in divorce. Researchers are worried about what these trends mean for us as we get older. Will seniors of the future have enough support?
LIVING ALONE IN AMERICA ON THE RISE IN OLDER ADULTS
Living alone not as uncommon as you may think 13% of U.S. adults lived alone in 2015, according to a recent study by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. That’s up 1%t since 1990, the share of people under 45 living alone hasn’t moved in 25 years. People 65 and over are living alone slightly less often, which should be attributed to increased quality in medical care. Americans aged 45 to 65, though, are increasingly living alone. Living alone isn’t the same thing as being lonely, of course. “Most people who are independent and live alone and age alone are quite active socially,” said Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociology professor.
NO CLOSE LIVING RELATIVES CAUSED BY SMALL FAMILY UNITS, SPELLS TROUBLE FOR SENIORS
One of the biggest concerns is aging people who have no close living relatives, independent and free of a spouse. Margolis, of the University of Western Ontario tried to figure out how many Americans fall into this category, analyzing survey data from 1998 to 2010. They found that 6.6 percent of U.S. adults 55 and older have neither a spouse nor biological children still alive. Those numbers are expected to rise.
The divorce rate for 55 to 64-year-olds more than doubled from 1990 to 2015, the National Center for Family & Marriage Research estimates. Once divorced, people are also remarrying less often, and living alone. In the future, seniors will also have fewer children and siblings to call for help. On average, baby boomers grew up in large families, with lots of brothers and sisters. But women today are having far fewer children.
STUDY SHOWS OLDER AMERICANS ABOUT TO SKYROCKET, TROUBLE FOR MEN
In a new study released this month, Verdery and Margolis predict that the number of older Americans without any living kin is about to surge. Using more than 100 years of Census Bureau data to track American families, they project that the share of whites without any living close kin will double by 2060.
To handle these trends, the U.S. needs more and better housing options for older adults, Klinenberg argues. Social mores might also need to change to make sure people—especially men, who are more prone to social isolation—stay connected as they get older. “Our society is evolving quickly, but probably not quickly enough,” he said.