Sunday, 21 April 2024
    Caring for 'kinless' seniors
    Aged Care

    Caring for 'kinless' seniors

    Nearly one million Americans have no immediate family members to provide assistance if needed. The number is expected to grow.

    An estimated 6.6 percent of American adults aged 55 and older have no living spouse or biological children, according to a study published in 2017 in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. (Researchers often use this definition of kinlessness because spouses and children are the relatives most apt to serve as family caregivers.)

    About 1 percent fit a narrower definition — lacking a spouse or partner, children and biological siblings. The figure rises to 3 percent among women over 75.

    Those aren’t high proportions, but they amount to a lot of kinless people: close to a million older Americans without a spouse or partner, children or siblings in 2019, including about 370,000 women over 75.

    “We assume that everyone has at least some family, but that’s not the case anymore,” said Rachel Margolis, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario and co-author of the study.

    Several demographic factors have fostered increased kinlessness. Baby boomers have lower marriage rates and higher divorce rates than their parents, and more have remained childless. The rise of so-called gray divorce, after age 50, also means fewer married seniors, and extended life spans can make for more years without surviving family.

    “All the pathways to singlehood have grown,” said Dr. Deborah Carr, a sociologist and researcher at Boston University.

    Among older couples, cohabitation has increased as an alternative to marriage, but those seniors are less likely than married couples to receive care from their partners. Those in committed relationships who don’t live with their partners are less likely still.

    In addition, seniors who are Black, female and have lower levels of wealth have particularly high rates of kinlessness.

    The growing number of kinless seniors, who sometimes call themselves “elder orphans” or “solo agers,” worries researchers and advocates, because this group faces numerous disadvantages.


    Who Will Care for ‘Kinless’ Seniors? (New York Times)