Living Single: 3 Questions To Prepare For A Solo Retirement
Living a single life is on the rise. Beyond the numbers, there are microtrends that suggest that the singlehood lifestyle is not only on the rise but is cause for celebration worldwide. What might living solo mean for life in retirement?
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four in 10 adults between ages 25 and 54 are neither married nor living with a partner, per its analysis of 2019 census data. The gap between those who marry or partner and those that remain single for life – never married, divorced, widowed – has greatly narrowed for all ages. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that approximately 135 million Americans have been married at some point compared to 130 million that have never partnered.
Life alone was once considered the result of bad luck, not choice. For many, singlehood is both a choice and a cause for celebration. Consider celibacy syndrome, a moniker for a growing segment of young people choosing friendship but rejecting dating and sex. Or the emergence of self-marriage ceremonies – where people commit to sologamy, a meaningful and loving relationship to themselves, in wedding-like celebrations.
There is even a day that celebrates singledom. Singles’ Day is celebrated every year on November 11. The event was first conceived in China as a counter to Valentine’s Day — a 24-hour shopping day to celebrate being single. November 11 was chosen because it provided the fortuitous shorthand date of four single sticks: 11/11. The event also is now the largest online shopping day in the world and a great reason to buy yourself a gift.
MORE FOR YOU
Although living a single life is chosen by many, it is often thrust on others by events and older age. While losing a mate in older age is a sad fact of life, divorce is often an unanticipated shock in retirement. Divorce rates are highest among people 50 and older. Death and divorce, combined with a trend of starting off single in younger age, and staying that way, makes the probability of living alone even greater for older adults. According to Pew Research, more than one in four people (27%) older than 60 live solo. Moreover, older women are 50% more likely than men to live alone — and by the time they are age 75 or older, approximately 44% of women are living in households of one.
A couple is more than a family unit. It is, or should be, a logistics engine to share and accomplish the many tasks necessary to ensure a household thrives. Living single in older age has the obvious financial complexity of relying on one source of retirement income. Beyond money, however, there are many planning considerations to support solo thriving in retirement that singles, by definition, must do on their own. Here are three of them.
How Will You Remain Socially Connected?
Social connection is critical to well-being at any age, single, or as part of a couple. Similar to your financial portfolio, your social portfolio of friends and family must constantly be maintained, rebalanced, and invested in over a lifetime. Couples often discover by default that one of them is what might be considered the social secretary, the connector, the maker of plans with friends, the one who does not rely on chance collisions to meet new people but actively engages with old friends and is always prospecting for opportunities to make new ones. Solo retirees may have to work harder to stay socially connected than if they were part of a couple, especially if they are not naturally outgoing.
Are You Retiring In The ‘Right Place’?
The vast majority of people older than 50 want to remain in their home — that is age in place. Unfortunately, as Ryan Frederick — a renowned expert on this topic notes — many people may not be living in the “right place.” Solo retirees may find that the right place is even more important for them. Overtime everyday tasks, even for those who have a partner to help them, can become difficult and even a barrier to independent living.
Are you retiring in a place that offers frequent opportunities to connect with others? Are there transportation alternatives if you no longer drive? Are there quality service providers to do all the mundane tasks necessary to remain independent, such as taking out the trash, cleaning, doing the laundry, changing light bulbs or preparing a meal? These are common tasks that are simply part of living in the home of your choosing.
Who Will Care For You?
At some point everyone will need help in older age, if not outright care, that goes well beyond help around the home. This includes medication support, nutrition management, bathing, dressing and home healthcare. That care often is provided by a spouse and followed by an adult child — often the oldest adult daughter or daughter-in-law.
Solo retirees will have to ask, “Who will care for me?” While not the perfect choice, couples make the grand (and often not discussed) assumption that their loving partner will care for them — an assumption not always found to be accurate. Living solo in retirement guarantees there are no built-in assumptions — only the need to anticipate, plan, and finance care in later life.
Lifestyle choices and events earlier in life have ripple effects shaping how we live in older age. A life of one, whether by decision or default, is becoming more common. Individuals and financial professionals alike now need to make a concerted effort to anticipate and prepare for living solo in retirement.