Chances are you know someone who lives alone. Or maybe you live alone! In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the demographic landscape as more members of the Generation X (1965-1981) and Baby Boomer (1946-1964) generations choose to live alone. While this trend may seem surprising to some, it reflects a changing societal landscape, evolving aspirations, and the desire for independence among these age groups. What are the driving forces behind the rise of Gen Xers and Boomers living alone and what are the implications of this cultural shift?
Let’s start with some eye-opening statistics:
- More than a quarter of all Americans live alone according to 2020 census data.1
- In 2022, 37.9 million Americans lived alone. That’s 29% of all American households having just one person.2
- By comparison, in 1960, only 13% of American households had a single occupant – a number that has steady risen over the past 60+ years to nearly 30% today.3
- For households headed by someone aged 50 or older, that figure is 36%. This equates to nearly 26 million Americans 50 or older who now live alone, up from 15 million in 2000.3
- All baby boomers will be over the age of 65 by 2030.4
Older people in general are more likely than others to live by themselves, and now that age group — Baby Boomers and Generation X — makes up a bigger share of the population than at any time in our nation’s history. But why is solo living on the rise with no signs of slowing down in sight?
Shifting Societal Dynamics
Traditional family structures continue to undergo significant transformations, with societal norms placing less emphasis on marriage and traditional family units. Gen Xers and Boomers, having grown up in different eras, are more likely to embrace individualism and personal fulfillment – and more likely to be divorced, separated, or unmarried. As a result, they are increasingly opting for the autonomy and freedom that living alone provides.
For women specifically, the increase in professional, financial, and social opportunities, have allowed them to achieve greater independence than women of previous generations. Today, over 60% of older adults living alone are women.5
Redefining Identity and Independence
Older generations, who have experienced the advent of technology and social change, appear to have a different perspective on what it means to be independent. Rather than associating independence solely with romantic relationships or family life, they are open to exploring alternative paths that allow them to define their identity outside of these traditional frameworks. Living alone can enable them to focus on personal growth, self-care, and pursue their interests and passions without compromise.
A recent study revealed that 70% of Gen X and Baby Boomers plan to age in place, remaining in the home they know and love for their retirement years.6 Another study reported 88% of adults aged 50 to 80 believe it is important to age in place.7 This data supports the notion that Americans want to retain their independence for as long as possible, making “aging in place” an increasingly important part of financial planning.
Totaling up the Cost
There’s no way around it –living alone can be a major financial commitment. Aside from the cost of the actual housing, it’s important for these older generations to take into account healthcare, accessibility, and daily living costs.
- Housing: Some Gen Xers and Boomers may desire to continue to live alone in the home they know and love as they age. Others may prefer to “right-size” to a new home that better suits their lifestyle – maybe a smaller floorplan or a warmer location. Alternatively, some senior living communities can offer varying levels of independence depending on individuals’ specific needs and goals.
- Healthcare: Healthcare expenses are notoriously difficult to plan for. We’ll all require some type of healthcare services as we age, but these costs vary significantly and there is no specific one-size-fits-all cost for covering healthcare expenses like in-home care.
- Accessibility: Many homes, no matter how well-kept and maintained, are not designed to accommodate the needs of older adults. The good news is, for those who wish to remain in their home as they age, there are plenty of modifications that can make their home more accessible. Depending on the house, substantial modifications may be needed and it’s no secret that these projects can come at a high cost.
- Daily Living: Budgeting for daily living expenses like groceries and transportation is critical. Some older adults may need regular help around the house at a certain point. Having a loved one step in can be a solution, however, this is not an option for everyone. Hiring help for household tasks and chores is a way to cover these needs while retaining independence, but there is a cost to that as well.
Financing these costs that come with living alone and aging can feel daunting, but planning ahead can make a huge difference! For many Americans, their home is their biggest asset, and the one they’ve invested in the most throughout their lives. Because of this, many older Americans opt to use alternative financing solutions, like retirement mortgages, to tap into their equity and set themselves up for the future.
Assessing the Implications
The rise of Gen Xers and Boomers living alone carries both individual and societal implications. On an individual level, living alone can promote personal growth, self-discovery, and a sense of empowerment – but it can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. For these individuals, it’s crucial to ensure that social isolation is mitigated by getting connected with supportive communities – whether they are local and in-person or entirely virtual – and find programs that facilitate social engagement.
Living alone offers individuals the freedom to structure their lives according to their own needs and preferences. However, societal implications arise in terms of housing demands, healthcare needs, and community infrastructure. Older generations tend to hold onto their family-size properties as they age and, as more individuals choose to live alone, there is a need for housing options that cater to smaller households and address the unique needs of older individuals. Additionally, healthcare systems and support services may need to adapt to provide adequate care and assistance to individuals living alone.
Facing the Future
The popularity of living alone signifies a paradigm shift in societal expectations and individual aspirations. Gen Xers and Boomers are redefining the concept of independence, embracing solitude as a means of personal fulfillment. As our society continues to adapt to these changing dynamics, it is vital to create a supportive environment that allows individuals of all generations to thrive in their chosen lifestyles, whether that includes living alone or pursuing alternative paths of fulfillment.
At Longbridge Financial, we can turn retirement aspirations into realties. We’re committed to responsibly helping homeowners retain their independence and reshape their financial future by helping them unlock the power of their homes. If you’re interested in learning more, contact our team today!