I have lived half my life alone. However, it appears I am not ‘alone.’ According to our AARP Community research, 37% of Boomers are single, either “never married” (12%), divorced/separated (21%) or widowed (4%). And while being single does not necessarily mean you live alone, 57% of boomer singles live alone and another 25% live only with their children.
So, how did I end up being alone at this stage in my life? I was happily married for ten years, but after that ended other romantic relationships didn’t seem to stick. I enjoy my career but didn’t necessarily set out to remain single. I’m quite content, but is there something I’m missing? And what does being single mean for my future happiness? Our Happiness Study shows that married folks are happier than singles. (22% vs. 12%, ‘very happy’). However, the same study also reveals that single people 50-80 are three times happier than single 35-49 year olds (18% vs. 8%< respectively).
As Eric Klineberg in his book “Going Solo” suggests: “Living alone, being alone and feeling lonely are three different conditions.” Singles, he points out, are far more likely to spend time with friends and neighbors and to volunteer in civic organizations. Singlehood proliferates in urban centers where networks can crystallize. I certainly fit that description well. Living 45 minutes from Manhattan, I think nothing of going in on a Saturday morning to an auction or museum exhibit, returning home early afternoon to dress for a show and/or dinner then heading back to NYC for the evening.
So, single Boomers like me are making a life for themselves, but what does the rest of society think about our growing single segment? Many probably don’t even consider the macro costs of this fastest growing demographic group. One person households have a greater carbon footprint, singles can drive up housing costs (less variable expenses so we can put more money into the cost of the home) and with fewer children, there is an increase burden on the young to support an aging population. Singles are also potentially more vulnerable than those who are married or in a relationship.
Additionally, sometimes us single folk can become too content with ourselves. The longer you live on your own, the more set in your ways you become. You are the master of your universe, but to some this can come across as appearing ‘bossy’ or controlling. I sometimes have to stop as I hear myself saying: “We should do this, or do that for your birthday”, rather than asking: “What would you like to do, it’s your day”. I suspect a lot of folks look at singles from this perspective, what I call “WAYTLOOO” (Way too long on our own). On the flip side, I have also become more resourceful. When an issue at work or with my house arises, I’m adept at dealing with it head on and resolving the problem.
So, from my own perspective as a single Boomer, I think we seem to be doing all right. I have so much to do that I don’t ever have the chance to feel lonely. Between work and social engagements and taking care of my house, I have a pretty full life. So all that’s left for me to wonder is whether this weekend I start my day by going to the auction in the city or changing all the batteries in my smoke detectors. Decisions, decisions . . .
More on Becky: Becky is AARP’s Senior Vice President of Research & Strategic Analysis, and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50+ and their families. Before coming to AARP, Becky served as the Vice President of Global Market Research & Guest Satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening, and collecting American Art and antiques.