|Household demographics in the
United States have shifted dramatically over the past few
decades. One person households, for example, have jumped
from 13 percent of all households in 1960 to 27 percent in 2004.
Nearly 30 million Americans now live
alone. There are currently more solo-single households in
the United States than there are households containing married
couples with children.
About one-third of these solo
singles are men and women 65 years of age and older. The
most recent annual data from the Census Bureau reports that 7.5
million senior women and 2.6 million senior men live alone.
Many seniors love living alone.
Others live alone because they have not found other suitable
options. In either event, seniors living on their own face
some significant challenges.
For those who are new to the solo
lifestyle, due to divorce or death of a spouse, the first
challenge may be psychological. An adjustment in attitude
about living alone may help.
Older women who find
themselves going it alone might consider purchasing a book on the
subject, such as "A Woman's Guide to Living Alone" by Pamela
Stone. Or solo singles of either gender might consider
reading "Living Alone Creatively" by Stanley E. Ely.
On a more practical and physical
level, climate control is a significant issue for many solo
seniors, especially those living in areas of the nation which
are subject to extreme heat in the summer or frigid temperatures
in the winter.
Transportation is a major problem
for those without cars or who no longer have a driver's license.
This is especially true in suburban or rural areas with
inadequate public transportation systems.
Security and safety are primary
concerns for seniors who live alone. People who have never
married or who are
divorced or widowed are more than twice as likely to be victims
of a robbery than those who are married.
Many solo seniors suffer from
poor nutrition. This can contribute to or aggravate
serious health issues.
New research from Denmark reports
that older people who live alone are twice as likely to suffer
serious heart disease than those who live with a partner.
The cost of solo living hits many
seniors quite hard in the pocketbook, especially those who are
living on fixed incomes. The cost of grocery shopping, for
example, is often higher per person for a solo single than a
multi-person household. Food that is packaged in large
volumes or bulk quantities can be significantly less expensive
per ounce or per pound than those purchased in smaller packages.
So what's a solo senior to do?
Plan, share, and cooperate -- that's what.
Transportation problems can be
minimized by planning trips to the store or to the doctor well
in advance. Tell your neighbors or fellow church members
about your transportation needs for the coming month. Ride
sharing or car pooling opportunities may materialize if you
speak up about your needs and offer to help pay for gas.
If you have errands to do that
are within walking distance, consider inviting a friend or
neighbor to walk with you. There is security in numbers.
You are less likely to be assaulted if you have a companion with
Contact your local utility
companies for suggestions on how you can protect yourself from
extreme temperatures. Perhaps they have a lower rate for
low-income seniors. Or maybe they can arrange for you to
pay a fixed amount each month in order to avoid a surge in
utility costs in the summer and winter.
Round up a few friends or
neighbors for a shopping spree at Costco or Sam's Club.
You can buy larger quantities to get the discounted price and
then divide the produce or other food items into smaller
quantities for each to take home. Cooperative buying can
save you a bundle of money in the long run.
Once you have the
food on your shelf at home, then comes the challenge of how to
cook healthy meals for one. Perhaps a little reading may
give you some helpful hints on this score.
American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has released a
healthy-cooking brochure for singles. "Cooking Solo:
Homemade for Health." The book focuses on planning, preparing and
enjoying healthy meals at home instead of haphazardly grabbing
food — that's often unhealthy — on the go. (To order a free copy of Cooking
Solo, call AICR at: 800-843-8114, ext. 111.)
According to Melanie Polk, a
nutrition advisor to AICR,
"When you change your
eating habits, you also often will find that you're going to
start taking off weight, slowly and consistently. Your clothes
will feel better. You'll feel better. You'll look better."
Based on an analysis of Census
data and trends, BusinessWeek Magazine projects that by 2010
nearly 30 percent of American households will be inhabited by
someone who lives alone.
By then, married
couples with kids will drop to 20 percent.
This shift in lifestyles and
household arrangements, including the boom in solo senior
living, is bound to have an effect on American society --
socially, economically, and politically.
Perhaps some of the current
challenges faced by solo seniors will become less daunting as
government agencies and private businesses pay more attention to
those who are home alone.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and