4/30/2012 4:12 PM ET|
The high cost of growing old alone
Seniors who live alone are in much greater danger of falling into poverty than those who have someone with whom to share expenses.
Katrina Depriest-Dark, age 58, who is handicapped and on disability, is grateful that her 80-year-old mother moved in with her this past year to help pay half of her $886 monthly mortgage on her Richmond, Va., home. As a single mother of now-grown children, Depriest-Dark found it costly to live alone, scraping by on disability checks and paying high medical costs to treat her lupus, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. She said she tried to buy in bulk, getting her groceries at Sam's Club, but with one person, much of that food would go to waste.
More Americans are living alone now than at any other point in history, and one-third of those 32.7 million are older than 65. A rise in the divorce rate in the over-50 set, which has doubled over the past two decades, along with women outliving their spouses by five to six years, is fueling the trend, which will only grow with an aging boomer population.
The older population in 2030 is projected to double from the start of this century -- from 35 million to 72 million -- representing nearly 20% of the total U.S. population, according to AARP.
Living on your own can be far more costly than sharing expenses like food and housing with a spouse, relative or housemate. Single seniors who also face escalating health care costs are five times more likely to live in poverty as their married peers. (Are you saving enough for retirement? Find out with MSN Money's calculator.)
A study by the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, "Living Longer on Less: The New Economic (In)Security of Seniors," (.pdf file) found that only 31% of senior couples are economically secure, a number that drops to 16% for single seniors. "The trends are not great. They're going in the wrong direction," said Tatjana Meschede, one of the study's authors and the director of research at the Heller School.
A National Council on Aging analysis of data from The American Community Survey shows that a senior living alone spends almost 35% of his or her income on housing, compared with 22% if living with others. "There is an economy of scale when you live with two or more," says Hector Ortiz, a senior program associate for research at The National Council on Aging. While seniors with the benefit of a hefty divorce settlement or significant assets from a deceased spouse are in better shape, others -- widows, in particular -- deplete their assets within a year of the loss of a spouse's income. "They can't keep up with regular expenses. It puts a big burden on those households," he says.
David Baxter, senior vice president of Age Wave, a research firm that specializes in the 50-plus population, expects boomers -- who have transformed nearly every other life stage -- to find innovative ways to address the financial challenges of senior singlehood. "We'll see new ways of living single," with more communal living that offers both caregiving and opportunities for social interaction, he says.
Some single seniors are turning to roommates and other alternative living situations. Bonnie Jackson, 64, of Chicago, contacted a local center of National Shared Housing Resources to help her rent out the two unused bedrooms in her home. She now gets $500 a month for each room and gives discounts to tenants who help her run errands or change light bulbs. Another woman in her late 50s formed her own community in Silicon Valley by buying two homes in a three-house enclave and renting her second property to two other single women.
Single by choice
Eric Klinenberg, a professor of Sociology at New York University and the author of the recent book "Going Solo," says that many older Americans, especially women, are single by choice. Many widows who have spent years ministering to the health care needs of a now-deceased husband are concerned about repeating that "brutal and unhealthy experience" and shun marriage, he says. Still, he says, "aging alone is especially challenging."
Women who live alone are more vulnerable than men are, since women typically spend less time in the workforce, pay less into Social Security and accumulate fewer assets. Being a single woman "is a factor determining poverty in old age," says M. Cindy Hounsell, the president of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement. She says that a single person lives on 80% of what a couple lives on, not the 50% you might expect. While the poverty rate for all women age 65 and older is 11.5%, that rate for single women is almost twice as high, at 19.1%.
In addition to food and housing, seniors face mounting health care costs, as they grow frailer and need to pay for assistance. They often cannot rely on family members to care for them, as grown children may live far away or be preoccupied with careers and their own families. Sandra Timmermann, a gerontologist at the MetLife Mature Market Institute, says that tasks like rides to doctor's appointments or getting groceries come at a hefty cost: an average of $19 an hour for companion services. Further, a personal emergency response system can cost $50 to install and $15 to $35 a month to monitor. "These little things can really add up," she says.
As for Depriest-Dark, having her mother as a roommate has been a benefit, even though she's taxed with assisting in her care. "When you're on a fixed income, it's very helpful to have someone to help you with the mortgage," she says.
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My wife of twelve years that had it made, decided that I was "boring" and decided to go do her own thing. What ever.
Now five years later she is working like a dog living in a one room apartment trying to make ends meet, What ever.
I am retired @ $7000 a month and doing just fine.
I may be "boring" but I am having more fun than ever. Life is just great.
To my ex wife I can only say, What ever.
To MsGTK, Let's see, first you say you are 43 and are on disability and can't ever work again, but if you could you could be a comptuer security specialist (who sits behind a desk and sits in front of a computer). Then later in the paragraph you talk about going to school and getting a third degree and studying for hours (focus, concentration, sitting behind a desk) and then you go on to say that you work from 4-? every night and it is all hard, but you do it?
You are exactly what is wrong with the current disibility system that is helping to bankrupt the country! You are scamming the system and now want an applause and a pat on the back.
I married reluctantly a second time in 1992. She told me, "Marry me or I am walking." I didn't want to lose her so I did.
Ten years later she was tired of marriage so she divorced me after I had retired for only a year. She just didn't want to be married anymore. She took my daughter, age 9 and fled to Florida without telling me. Now she is a loser and unhappy. Boo hoo. I have had it with women. They are never satisfied. I treated her like a queen, bought her beautiful homes and new cars and I got s**t on.
I agree with Robert Smith. I am an 83 yer old male whose wife of 48 years died 18 months ago at age 70.
I have sufficient income from all sources to live comfortably, cook for myself or dine out, have a twice a month maid svs to clean my townhome, and several old friends to spend time with. I am active, both physically and mentally. I have several pets and a dependable pet sitter to look after them when I want to go out of town to visit my daughter.
While I miss my wife greatly, my life is not that bad. My only major concern is that if I were to die suddenly, it may be several days before my body would be found and there seems to be no way to insure that will not happen.
Some of us would rather be married and sharing not only our lives, but our living expenses with someone else, but we can't always get what we want.
single isn't a choice; you can't force anyone to marry you or move in with you
Sometimes you're single by choice, and sometimes you're single by default. Sometimes you have choices to marry, but the choices would be a significant sacrifice of the soul, without the guaranteed positive pooled resources.
Sometimes it's better to work and make a good living and save, while making good solid friends of all ages by investing time, love, resources, energy in them, for your entire life. Coupledom is not the ultimate guarantee of survival. "Human society" is about community, interdependent caring for family and friends. It doesn't mean everyone gets married in order to survive and there is no other way. Lawyers have changed our culture far more than feminism has.
For P389 who thinks single women financially struggling in old age is a result of the ME feminist generation, you are commenting on only a fraction of reality. There are women who devoted their lives to husbands and children, shunning feminism and the workplace paycheck, AND STILL they have this poverty biting them in the butt. How are they different from women who never married and find themselves old and poor?
Some of them have done very well, DUE TO MANY factors: luck, timing, intelligent choices, great darwinistic DNA, wise investment of resources, raising solid kids, having a gainfully employed husband who stuck around, and plenty of the right kinds of insurances.
Some of them have not fared so well DUE TO MANY of the same factors, NOT BECAUSE they chose feminism.
While feminism has caused some massive changes in our culture, some not so positive, I would never refer to being single (by choice or otherwise) as buying a terrible feminist lie of deception, trading marriage for a life of freedom & poverty. No matter what, it is VERY EXPENSIVE to GROW OLD. PERIOD.
Shame on you. You are an opportunistic misogynist. You are using this important story to troll for a child bride. You describe her like you are trying to buy a horse for your little slice of paradise. Since you are fit at your age, is it too impossible for a woman your age to be fit too? I wonder what age you went after when you were 40. Hang around elementary schools back then much?
Go to a therapist and learn how to deal with your age before it's too late. Or wait for the opportunist man-hater your add is bound to attract to come and fleece you of everything you own.
My most promising feature is that the young ladies all fall for me and treat me as one of them, not as a doddering old fart who needs attention. Here I stay alone until the right one comes
Falling for you you say. Then why this desperate call for attention?
so I am ready to go to third world countries and select one of the Asian or other persons who will appreciate being taken out of poverty and treated like a queen.
You mean treated like a slave and a sex slave. Oh, and by the way, there is only one world. No third world. The correct term these days is developing economy. You might know that if you took your head out of your Hustler Magazines once in a while grandpa. Are your five children keeping their kids away from you for some reason? Why are they so independent?
Do the world a favor and flush your stash of viagra and learn to play with girls your own age.
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