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17 April 2012
Baby boomers facing lonely old age
by George Atkinson

New statistics from Bowling Green State University paint a bleak future for the largest generation in history, the baby boomers, as they cross into old age.

Using census data, sociologists I-Fen Lin and Susan Brown found one-third of adults aged 45-63 are unmarried. Astonishingly, this represents a more than 50 percent increase since 1980, when just 20 percent of middle-aged Americans were unmarried.

Intriguingly, most single boomers are divorced or never married but just 10 percent are widowed. "The shift in marital composition of the middle-aged suggests that researchers and policymakers can no longer focus on widowhood in later life and should pay attention to the vulnerabilities of the never-married and divorced as well," noted Lin.

Brown added that one in five single baby boomers is living in poverty, compared to one in 20 for their married counterparts. The previous marital status of unmarried baby boomers also has significant repercussions, say the researchers. In general, divorced boomers have more economic resources and better health than their widowed or never married counterparts.

"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. "In the past, family members, particularly spouses, have provided care to infirm older adults. But a growing share of older adults aren't going to have a spouse available to rely on for support."

Adding to the concern is that unmarrieds are less likely to have children who might provide care. These shifting family patterns portend new strains on existing health care supports for the elderly, say the researchers. "As more singles enter older adulthood, society may have to reconsider how we care for frail elders. The family may no longer be a viable option for an increasing segment of older adults," warns Brown.

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Source: Bowling Green State University

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