Home Alone!

“Increasing numbers of single people who do not have children are heading into their senior years alone.” Julie Borg

“It comes down to the chickens have come home to roost for people who were young in the ‘70s and ‘80s and thought children were a burden.” Glenn Stanton

Old and alone

SCIENCE | Many in the ‘me generation’ face a lonely future

science_62Nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are at risk of becoming “elder orphans,” a new term used to describe aging people who are single and childless, according to a study conducted at the geriatric and palliative medicine department of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York.

Increasing numbers of single people who do not have children are heading into their senior years alone. One-third of Americans between the ages of 45 and 63 are single, an increase of 50 percent since 1980. The number of women aged 40 to 44 who are childless has nearly doubled since that time.

Elder orphans face a wide range of potential difficulties, including health issues, mental health decline, and premature death. Research author Maria Torroella Carney said they will require more community and social services, emergency response, and education. Although it is hard to draw conclusions based on one study, it is likely that decisions to remain childless, which increased with the baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964, are a contributing factor. “My generation was one of the first that elected not to have children,” Joyce Varner, director of the Adult-Geron Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program at the University of South Alabama, told CNN. 

Varner began to see the problem surfacing in the 1990s. “I see a lot of sadness and regret on the part of the elderly people who decided not to have children,” she said. “A lot of fear. ‘How are we going to get care? Is there going to be anyone with me at the end of life?’”

“It comes down to the chickens have come home to roost for people who were young in the ’70s and ’80s and thought children were a burden,” said Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family. This generation became known as the “Me generation,” spawning a societal devaluation of children and the double-income, no-kids group that didn’t want to be tied down. They didn’t want children to get in the way of “their self-actualization,” he said.

With the advent of the pill, having sex no longer had to mean having babies; with legalized abortion, becoming pregnant no longer had to mean becoming a parent. Environmentalists, meanwhile, sounded the alarm about a population explosion, claiming the earth didn’t have enough resources for everybody and we were ruining our world. The ideological impact of those warnings made remaining childless seem like a virtue, Stanton said. But it was blown out of proportion. The population bomb never exploded. And now a significant number of the Me generation are facing their senior years alone.

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