More Gen X and Boomers are Living Solo

Whether it’s a concerted Gen X personal choice, divorce, death, or a twist of fate, millions of people aged 50 and older are living alone. Research has shown that people aging alone experience worse physical and mental health outcomes as well as shorter life spans. Not to mention the financial implications of being a single head of household – a heavy burden to carry alone into the golden years.

The solo-living Gen X and baby boomer population is massive – almost 26 million Americans over 50 now live alone. In 2000, it was just 15 million.

New research shows the trend has been partially driven by changes in attitudes surrounding gender and marriage and people in this demographic are more likely than previous generations to be divorced, separated, or never married.

Living alone is a modern phenomenon

Census statistics show that for most of history, very few people lived alone. In 1960, Only 7 million people lived alone in the U.S. – that was just 13% of all households.  Today, that number is almost 30% — but for households headed by someone 50 or older, 36% are unmarried and not cohabiting (single).

The latest research does not include people “living apart together”—couples who are married or in a committed romantic relationship who live apart. Add to that, about one in six Americans 55 and older do not have children, raising questions about how seniors will be cared for in the coming decades.

It’s a populous and digitally connected group; however, experts say that those aging alone are experiencing worse physical and mental health outcomes.  And, even with an active family and social life outside the home, solo dwellers are lonelier and have shorter life spans.

Health effects of social isolation, loneliness

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.

People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk.

Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. Studies show these activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function.

 The financial burden is staggering

The Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) found that half of older adults who live alone do not have enough money to cover their basic financial needs. And, there is no county in the U.S. where the average cost of living and the average Social Security benefit are equal, which makes it harder for retirees to break even.

For those in the demographic who are already retired, cutting costs of living and exploring options to increase income is essential. And for the Gen Xers who are still working, these statistics should serve as an important wake-up call to increase savings rates to avoid a similar fate.

According to UMB’s Elder Index, these individuals have incomes that are below what they need to meet basic living expenses including food, housing, health care, transportation, and other necessities.

UMB’s Gerontology Institute also found that more than four in ten older singles in every state are at risk of not being able to afford their basic needs and more than half of older adults who are living below the Elderly Index rely on Social Security benefits for at least 90% of their incomes.

The dilemma of homeownership plays a factor

Homeownership can be a challenge for anyone who is single no matter what their age. Without a spouse, they usually rely only on their own income to get a mortgage. In addition, there are disadvantages in the way laws, taxes, policies, and financial institutions favor married people when it comes to buying a home.

The research on single people living alone in midlife showed that just over half of those in their 50s are homeowners.  Add to that dilemma the fact that solo adults living in homes with at least three bedrooms find that downsizing is not easy because of a shortage of smaller homes in their towns and neighborhoods because of zoning and construction limitations.

Today, just 7% of new builds are smaller homes, despite the fact that the number of single-person households has surged, according to Freddie Mac. In turn, this has made it more difficult for older Americans to downsize, as a large, aging house often sells for less than what a single adult needs to establish a new, smaller home and pay for their living and health care expenses in retirement.

Options for Gen Xers and Boomers at or approaching retirement solo

Wealth managers say if people in this demographic can’t afford the basics, there are possibilities to consider; however, the key is in the preparation.

“Retirement requires a lot of planning and consideration – in addition to finances, you need to think about when and where you’ll retire,” said Chris Lean, investment director, Aisa International. “Depending on your individual circumstances, you may need as much as 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to continue your current standard of living.”

Assuming partnering up or getting a roommate to share expenses is not an option, there are other strategies that can help alleviate financial woes, including:

  • Remaining in the workforce longer or returning to work
  • Freelancing, crafting, or making and selling things from home
  • Downsizing from a pricier home if possible
  • Getting a reverse mortgage to access cash
  • Relocating to a more affordable area
  • Creating a spending and budget plan and sticking to it
  • Utilizing senior discounts (many start at age 50)
  • Meeting with a financial advisor

“Simple things like using a retirement calculator to figure out your basic cost-of-living expenses is a great first step in preparing for retirement,” Lean said. “It will work out what retirement might look like for you by analyzing your pension savings, social security projection, taxes, and other sources of investment income and give you a good estimate of what you’ll have to live on long after you leave the workforce.”


The views expressed in this article are not to be construed as personal advice. You should contact a qualified and ideally regulated adviser in order to obtain up-to-date personal advice with regard to your own personal circumstances. If you do not then you are acting under your own authority and deemed “execution only”. The author does not accept any liability for people acting without personalised advice, who base a decision on views expressed in this generic article. Where this article is dated then it is based on legislation as of the date. Legislation changes but articles are rarely updated, although sometimes a new article is written; so, please check for later articles or changes in legislation on official government websites, as this article should not be relied on in isolation.


Chris Lean

Chris is a Chartered Financial Planner who writes blogs and articles to simplify and explain some of the financial issues that affect UK expats. Subjects include; hot topics, regulation and the ever-changing world of finance.

Related Stories:
Advise Me

Share this story