Living a single’s life is on the rise. Beyond the numbers, there are microtrends that suggest that the singlehood lifestyle is not only on the rise but is cause for celebration worldwide. What might living solo mean for life in retirement?
According to Pew Research, nearly four-in-ten adults between the ages of 25 to 54 years old are neither married nor living with a partner. The gap between those who marry or partner and those that remain single for life – never married, divorced, widowed – has greatly narrowed for all ages. The US Census reports that approximately 135 million Americans report having been married at some point compared to 130 million that have never partnered.
Life alone was once considered the result of bad luck, not choice. For many, singlehood is both a choice and a cause for celebration. Consider celibacy syndrome, a moniker for a growing segment of young people choosing friendship but rejecting dating and sex. Or the emergence of self-marriage ceremonies – where people commit to sologamy, a meaningful and loving relationship to themselves, in wedding-like celebrations.
There is even a day that celebrates singledom. Singles Day is celebrated every year on November 11. The day was first conceived of in China as a NOT Valentine’s Day celebration. A shopping day to celebrate being single. November 11 was chosen because it provided the fortuitous shorthand date of four single sticks, 11/11. Today, the day is largest online shopping day in the world and a great reason to buy yourself a gift.
Although living a single’s life is chosen by many, it is often thrust on others by events and older age. While losing a mate in older age is a sad fact of life, divorce is often an unanticipated shock in retirement. Divorce rates are highest among the 50-plus. Death and divorce, combined with a trend of starting off single in younger age, and staying that way, makes the probability of living alone even greater for older adults. According to Pew Research, more than one in four people (27%) over 60-years old live solo. Moreover, older women are 50% more likely than men to live alone – and by 75-plus years old approximately 44% of women are living in households of one.
A couple is more than a family unit, it is, or should be, a logistics engine to share and accomplish the many tasks necessary to ensure a household thrives. Living single in older age has the obvious financial complexity of relying on one source of retirement income. Beyond money, however, there are many planning considerations to support solo thriving in retirement that singles, by definition, must do on their own. Here are three.
How will you remain socially connected?
Social connection is critical to wellbeing at any age, single, or as part of a couple. Similar to your financial portfolio, your social portfolio of friends and family must constantly be maintained, rebalanced, and invested in over a lifetime. Couples often discover by default that one of them is what might be considered the social secretary, the connector, the plans with friends maker, the one that does not rely on chance collisions to meet new people but actively engages with old friends and is always prospecting for opportunities to make new ones. Solo retirees may have to work harder to stay socially connected than if they were part of a couple, especially if they are not naturally outgoing.
Are you retiring in the “right place?”
The vast majority of people over 50-years old want to remain in their home, that is age-in-place. Unfortunately, as renown aging-in-place expert Ryan Fredrick notes, many people may not be living in the “right place.” Solo retirees may find that the right place is even more important for them. Overtime everyday tasks, even for those that have a partner to help them, can become difficult and even a barrier to independent living. Are you retiring in a place that offers frequent opportunities to connect with others, are there transportation alternatives if you no longer drive, and are there quality service providers to do all the mundane tasks necessary to remain independent, such as taking out the trash, cleaning, doing the laundry, changing light bulbs, preparing a meal, etc.? Commonplace and simple tasks, that are simply part of living in the home of your choosing.
Who will care for you?
At some point everyone will need help in older age, if not outright care. that goes well beyond help around the home but includes medication support, nutrition management, bathing, dressing, home healthcare, etc. Most often that care is provided by a spouse followed by an adult child, often the oldest adult daughter or daughter-in-law. Solo retirees will have to ask, “Who will care for me?” While not the perfect choice, couples make the grand (and often not discussed) assumption that their loving partner will care for them – an assumption not always found to be accurate. Living solo in retirement guarantees there are no built in assumptions — only the need to anticipate, plan, and finance care in later life.
Lifestyle choices and events earlier in life have ripple effects shaping how we live in older age. A life of one, whether by decision or default, is becoming more common. Individuals and financial professionals alike now need to make a concerted effort to anticipate and prepare for living solo in retirement.