Why So Many Seniors Live Alone?

  • 70% of elderly living alone are women
  • Average marriage today last 11 years
  • A decline in church attendance
  • Differences between generations
seniors living alone

As many of you know our senior population is growing more and more every day and the reasons for this are many, but the main reason was the explosion of births after World War II. Hence the name Baby Boomers. Due to the rapid improvements in medical care, many are living longer, also. Together this has lead to an abnormal number of our older population living alone and has created the need for people to help seniors living alone.

We have always had many of our seniors living alone, but the senior group numbers have increased dramatically, which leave many home alone. In the past, out of respect for the parent, children would look after their parents in their senior years, but for some reason, that number has decreased a lot lately. Why is this and why is there such a disconnect between children today and their fathers or mothers? I want to take a look at some of the numbers here and try to examine the reasons why.

Elderly Living Alone

In the United States, there is about 46 million elderly that lives in community dwellings, of which 29% live alone. Some other numbers are 70% of seniors living alone are women, and 46% are greater than 75 years old. Men are more likely to remarry before women, but men are expected to die before women. Many of the elderly lack sufficient income, especially as they grow older, because of added healthcare cost and inflation.

Most have the feeling of loneliness and social isolation. In those with health problems, new or worsening symptoms may go unnoticed. Many have difficulty taking care of any illnesses they may have because of physical limitations. Because of these limitations, they have problems preparing meals, and some do not prepare full balanced meals, making undernutrition a concern.

Despite these problems, almost 90% of the elderly display a strong desire to preserve their independence. Most fear being too dependent on others and, despite the loneliness, want to continue to reside by themselves. To ensure they can stay independent we should urge them to engage in routine physical activity and social intercommunications.

Many today have full-time jobs and are very busy these days, but how much busier are we today than we were ten years ago? A common phrase from the younger ones these days is “I have been so busy, I just don’t have the time.” Stopping by at least once a week, spend a couple of hours with your mom or dad who is living alone and see to it they are getting along well; taking their meds, eating correctly,  and getting the needed exercise will do a lot to make their lives a lot better. Checking on a regular basis will help you to see to it that they are doing well and if not talk with them about other options that are available to help them get along better.

Divorce Rate U.S.

I have seen countless seniors living at home or sitting in assisted living facilities by themselves, alone with no one stopping by to visit. And when talking to the staff in these homes, they tell me some never have any family visit. Why is this? I guess there could be many reasons, but one of them could be the high divorce rates we have now. We all know the majority of divorces do not end gracefully. In the end, both parents are fighting and if there are two or three children involved the children will side with one or the other parent.

Today the average length for a marriage in the U.S. is eleven years. These numbers are in sharp contrast to previous generations where the subject of divorce was rarely brought up; men and women once married were expected to stay together till death do us part.

Studies have shown that the majority of separations occur in middle class to needy families. So what does this do to the family? It leaves one parent struggling to bring up the children on a limited income and not be able to save for retirement. Subsequently, the children are left on their own not respecting either parent, which leads to not helping their parents when they are older; leaving the parent alone in their senior years.

Family and Church
family and church

I know some of you are reading this, and you don’t want to hear about the importance of family and church, but when we talk about seniors living alone, I think it makes sense. No matter who you talk to they will tell us there has been a significant decline in church attendance these past few years. The reasons why are many, and that is a different subject altogether. If a young person attends church on a regular basis, he learns quickly about honoring his mother and father.

It does not matter if you are religious or not the teachings in the churches are very important in any civilization. I think all religions teach the significance of a father and mother, their role in guiding their children and how our young ones are to value their parents.

If you are the child of a struggling divorced parent, who rarely attended church, then you may not know the importance of the fifth commandment “Honour thy father and thy mother.”

Maybe you were brought up with an excellent happy modern day family, or what passes for a family nowadays. How can we describe the average family of the past few years? We could go back to the 1970s when all this started taking place. Most families are so consumed with living, working, and making money these days that parents spend very little quality time with their children.

If the parents or a parent is spending time with the children, it is usually running to the store, to meetings, parties, Disney World, or a sporting event. How many families actually sit down for dinner every night and have an actual conversation with their children? Yes, some do sit down for a good meal, but the TV may be going full blast, or mom is on the cell phone with her co-workers, or Johnny is talking to his new girlfriend on his cell phone. In the meantime, dad might be checking the stock futures on his iPad. My question; are we having thoughtful, constructive conversations with our children? Could this be why they have left us alone, to live alone?

Baby Boomers vs. Millennials

We could talk forever about the difference between Baby Boomer and Millennials. Much of this was due to the accelerated advancement of technology, which in some ways made the gap between the two generations farther. Somehow this led to everyone to become consumed in themselves and maybe a few others.

What are some of the differences between the generations that could have created the disconnect between them:

Traditionalists 1900-1945
Dealing with money – Put it away, Pay Cash, Save and Save
Work Ethic – Dedicated, Pay your dues, Work hard, Respect authority
Technology – Adapted
Entitlement – Seniority
Workplace view on time – Punch the clock, Get the job done
View on Work/Life Balance – Work hard to keep job security

baby boomers

Baby Boomers 1946-1964                                          
Dealing with money – Buy now pay later
Work Ethic –  Driven, Workaholic –  60 hour work week
Technology –  Acquired
Entitlement – Experience
Workplace view on time – Workaholic, Created the 50 hour work week
View on Work/Life Balance – Were reluctant of using too much time off work for concerns of squandering their place on the corporate ladder, which led to less family time and family vacations

Generation X 1965-1980
Dealing with money – Cautious, Conservative
Work Ethic – Balance 50/50, Work smarter and with higher output
Technology – Assimilated
Entitlement – Merit
Workplace view on time – Project-oriented, Get paid to get the job finished
View on Work/Life Balance – Because of parents who are Boomer workaholics, they concentrate on a more precise balance between work and family


Millennials 1981-1994     
Dealing with money – Earn to spend
Work Ethic – Ambitious, What’s next
Technology – Integral
Entitlement – Contribution
Workplace view on time – Effective workers but gone at 5 PM, View work as a gig, something that fills the time between weekends
View on Work/Life Balance – Not only balance with work and life, but stability with work, life, and community

This information comes from wmfc.org, but what is really telling is the difference between the generations when it comes to values:

Traditionalists – value family and community
Baby Boomers – value success
Generation X – value time
Millennials – value individuality

As we can see there is and always will be vast differences between generations and some of this can be the reasons they hesitate to take care of their senior parents. Those of the Traditionalist generation placed great value on family and community, and we can see in later generations success, time, and individuality play a more significant role. Traditionalist believed in getting the job done no matter how much time it took, but more following generations think their time is more important than work.

My Final Thoughts

We should remember the generation we are talking about the most here is the Traditionalist. They are the ones home alone with very little company, or they are in assisted living facilities with few visitors. The Traditionalist generation was the generation that valued family and community more than the other generations. Read one of my earlier blogs about the Challenges of Taking Care of the Elderly, where we talk about the problems of caring for our parents in their senior years and the importance of caregiving.

It would be great if all children could look after their parents in their older days to keep them out of assisted living nursing homes, but of course, sometimes this is not possible. If the children could help their parents as much as possible before putting them in a nursing home would make a lot of difference. I can assure you no parent wants to die alone and I know for me it would be hard to say I did not do as much as possible to make my mother or father as comfortable as possible in their final days.

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Your Comments are Always Welcome. Please Comment Below  

8 thoughts on “Why So Many Seniors Live Alone?

  1. Wow Wayne what a fabulous overview of our world at this moment.I know of so many singles who are alone.I often wonder how we can create more intentional community where no one has to worry about being alone .
    So enjoyed reading this..and perhaps the next turn for the upcoming generation will be more intergenerational contact?
    In.peace and gratitude,ariel

    1. Ariel, thanks for your comments, you always make me look good!

      I know I criticized the internet some in my post, but if anything it has helped us with being able to communicate, not only in the U.S. but all over the world. The internet has made it possible for us to chat with friends and relatives, whereas before many had to wait for someone to visit. This will keep our minds active and relieve the loneliness somewhat, as we age.

      I do worry about our younger ones, as it seems they are getting further and further away. I guess we are going to have to keep up with all the social sites in order to keep communicating with them. We may not see it in our lifetime but things, I hope, will turn around eventually and our intergenerational communications will improve.

      THX Ariel, talk soon!

  2. As a baby boomer, I see many of my friends going to a nursing home to die. Too many have no one to visit as you state. I do care for my elderly Aunt, she is 86. She still volunteers 20 hours a week at a local food pantry.
    Do you think having a purpose will help people as they get older, how do you think the CBD oil will help in this.

    1. Thank you, John, for your comments. You are so right on about seniors having a purpose and that is great about your Aunt. We should encourage all of our older relatives to get out and mingle or become involved in some kind of club or organization.

      My mother has been taking CBD Oil for two months now. She suffers from Scoliosis and did not move around very much, no matter how much I tried to encourage her. But, we can’t blame them, no one feels like doing things if they suffer pain. I am confident the CBD Oil relieved her pain somewhat and helped her with the depression she had from feeling bad all the time.

      She is a lot more outgoing now and wants to get out a lot more. She is much better to visit with; more like her old self. We talk about things like we used to instead of talking about her constant pain.

  3. This was a very enlightening article, Wayne. Well-written and much well-said. I never realized the disparity as well as the mindset of the various cultural times – it really is a ‘rude-awakening’ for me – somewhat.
    I am ‘old-school’ and yes, was brought up being a constant ‘relic’ in the church and yes, honoring those ‘older than me’. SO, yes, I am of a different mindset.
    Seeing those statistics – the divorce rate, the older women who live alone, it really makes me wonder…and in a way, think about my time left to get to a ‘that older age’. But I will ‘worry’ about that in time.
    For now, I will help those who are older and I will make an effort to visit the older in the assistance living who have no-one to visit with them.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Michelle for your comments. Sounds like we are both the same when it comes our traditions and beliefs. Like you I will continue to respect the elderly and take care of them the best I can. I have hope that someday, and it may take a while, the younger ones will realize we should get back to the ideas and beliefs that made our nation great. Thank you and hope to talk soon.

  4. Hello Wayne,

    Your post struck a chord with me because I am a caregiver for an elderly mom suffering from chronic back pain. I have been startled several times in my life when people suggested that I stick her in a nursing home and “go on with my life”. That kind of thinking is a alien to me because I was brought up in a tradition, South Africa born, where you take care of your parents because they took care of you. Yes, if they are too sick you might have to consider an option such as a nursing home. However, to just stick them there because they are an inconvenient isn’t something that I could do.
    However, I don’t think it’s just the South African tradition. You are right when you point out that a similar tradition was once widely accepted in America. The break down in institutions that reinforced traditional support for the family and especially the our elderly, such as the church and marriage, changed things for our seniors. I think that’s why so many are struggling. Thanks for bringing this issue to light.

    1. Thank you Thabo for all your comments. You are right on the money when talking about putting your mom in a nursing home. I has been suggested to me several times, also. But, like you say I will not do it until it is absolutely necessary.
      It is a South African tradition and is a tradition in many countries over the world. In some of our more advanced countries people have gotten away from taking care of their elderly, and as you say church and marriage are part of the problem. I also think they have come to believe it is a job for our governments now.
      Thanks again Thabo and hope to talk soon.

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