American baby boomers, Gen X-ers confront being home alone – Daily News

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Jay Miles has lived his 52 years without marriage or children, which has suited his creative ambitions as a videographer and, he said, his mix of “independence and stubbornness.” But he worries about who will take care of him as he gets older.

Mary Felder, 65, raised her children, now grown, in her row house. Her home has plenty of space for one person, but upkeep is expensive on the century-old house.

Felder and Miles are members of one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups: people 50 and older who live alone.

In 1960, just 13% of American households had a single occupant. But that figure has risen steadily, and today it is approaching 30%. For households headed by someone 50 or older, that figure is 36%.

Nearly 26 million Americans 50 or older now live alone, up from 15 million in 2000. Older people have always been more likely than others to live by themselves, and now that age group — baby boomers and Gen Xers — makes up a bigger share of the population than at any time in the nation’s history.

The trend has also been driven by deep changes in attitudes surrounding gender and marriage. People 50-plus today are more likely than earlier generations to be divorced, separated or never married.

Women in this category have had opportunities for professional advancement, homeownership and financial independence that were all but out of reach for previous generations of older women. More than 60% of older adults living by themselves are female.

“There is this huge, kind of explosive social and demographic change happening,” said Markus Schafer, a sociologist at Baylor University who studies older populations.

In interviews, many older adults said they feel positively about their lives.

But while many people in their 50s and 60s thrive living solo, research is unequivocal that people aging alone experience worse physical and mental health outcomes and shorter life spans.

And even with an active social and family life, people in this group are generally more lonely than those who live with others, according to Schafer’s research.

In many ways, the nation’s housing stock has grown out of sync with these shifting demographics. Many solo adults live in homes with at least three bedrooms, census data shows, but find that downsizing is not easy because of a shortage of smaller homes in their towns and neighborhoods.

Compounding the challenge of living solo, a growing share of older adults — about 1 in 6 Americans 55 and older — do not have children, raising questions about how elder care will be managed in the coming decades.

“What will happen to this cohort?” Schafer asked. “Can they continue to find other supports that compensate for living alone?”

Watching their own parents age seems to have had a profound effect on many members of Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980, who say they doubt that they can lean on the same supports that their parents did: long marriages, pensions, homes that sometimes skyrocketed in value.

When his mother died two years ago, Miles, the videographer, took comfort in moving some of her furniture into his house in New Haven, Connecticut.

“It was a coming home psychologically,” he said, allowing him to feel rooted after decades of cross-country moves and peripatetic career explorations, shifting from the music business to high school teaching to producing films for nonprofits and companies.

“I still feel pretty indestructible, foolishly or not,” he said.

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