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The retirement discussion continues with Emily Brandon.

Men are living longer, so women are less likely to become widows. Women are becoming slightly less likely to live alone in old age.

 

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A job outside the home provides many opportunities to make friends and socialize, but those social opportunities often disappear when you retire. With few reasons to leave the house, loneliness is a commonly felt emotion during the retirement years, especially once a spouse passes away. But recent research indicates that a smaller share of seniors will be spending their retirement years alone.

The proportion of people age 65 and older living alone increased dramatically from 6 percent in 1900 to 29 percent in 1990, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. However, over the past 25 years the share of older adults living alone declined by 3 percentage points to 26 percent in 2014.

It is primarily older women who live alone. Women tend to live several years longer than men. They comprise 69 percent of the 12.1 million older Americans living alone, but this is down from 79 percent in 1990.

The life expectancy of men has recently been increasing faster than that of women and narrowing the longevity gap. The proportion of women 65 and older living alone declined from 38 percent in 1990 to 32 percent in 2014. The share of older men living alone actually increased from 15 percent to 18 percent over the same time period. “An increase in life expectancy, especially among men, has made it more likely that older women would be living with their spouses rather than as widows,” according to the Pew report.

A recent Urban Institute study observed a similar trend. The analysis found that, due to a shrinking gender gap in longevity, women are becoming less likely to outlive their husbands, and there is a smaller proportion of widows in the older population. The Urban Institute projects that older women will be more likely to live with a spouse in 2060 than they were in 2000. Nonetheless, they expect that about half of women will spend at least 10 years without a spouse after age 65 over the next 50 years.

Many older adults are choosing to live alone. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey of 1,692 adults found that, if they could no longer live on their own, 61 percent would prefer to stay in their own home and have someone care for them there. Far fewer adults want to move into an assisted living facility (17 percent), reside with a family member (8 percent) or relocate to a nursing home (4 percent). The proportion of older Americans living in nursing homes or group quarters at age 85 or older has declined from 24 percent in 1990 to 11 percent in 2014, Pew found.

But living alone is often more expensive than living with others. Single seniors only have one Social Security check coming in instead of two, and there’s no one to split expenses with. The Pew survey found that people 65 and older who are living alone are more likely to have difficulty covering basic expenses. Only a third of older adults living alone say they live comfortably, compared to half of people the same age who live with others. “Your financial security is much greater when you are married than when you are living alone,” says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow and director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. “Your expenses don’t decline that much when you lose a spouse, but you lose that Social Security check and you could potentially lose a pension check.”

 

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