New research suggests many baby boomers may be in for some hard times as they move into old age.
Researchers from Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) found that one-third of adults aged 45 to 63 are unmarried.
Investigators said this proportion of unmarried older adults is a 50 percent increase in unmarried individuals since 1980 (when 20 percent of middle-aged Americans were unmarried).
Researchers discovered the demographic shift after analysis of the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses and the 2009 round of the American Community Survey.
Most single boomers are divorced or never married, said sociologists Drs. I-Fen Lin and Susan Brown. In fact, one in three single baby boomers has never been married. Only 10 percent of unmarried boomers are widowed.
“The shift in marital composition of the middle-aged suggests that researchers and policymakers can no longer focus on widowhood in later life and should pay attention to the vulnerabilities of the never-married and divorced as well,” said Lin.
According to Brown, one in five single baby boomers is living in poverty compared to one in 20 for their married counterparts. Single boomers are twice as likely to be disabled, but they are also less likely to have health insurance.
The large proportion of current baby boomers that have never been married is of concern as the probability of marrying for the first time during middle age is extremely low, meaning that nearly all of the never-married boomers will remain unmarried.
This finding is important as individuals grow older, increasing the need for health and housing. In general, divorced boomers have more economic resources and better health than their widowed or never-married counterparts.
“The economic and health vulnerabilities of single boomers are concerning because boomers are now moving into old age when failing health becomes even more common and severe,” said Brown. “In the past, family members, particularly spouses, have provided care to infirm older adults. But a growing share of older adults aren’t going to have a spouse available to rely on for support.
“Our figures indicate one in three boomers won’t have a spouse who can care for them. [And people who are unmarried] are less likely to have children who might provide care. These shifting family patterns portend new strains on existing institutional supports for the elderly.
“As more singles enter older adulthood, we as a society may have to reconsider how we care for frail elders. The family may no longer be a viable option for an increasing segment of older adults.”
Source: Bowling Green State University