We all know people who are happily married, as well as ones who are miserably so. The same goes for singles — there are those who are single by choice and those who would do anything to have a partner. No matter which group you fall into, it’s important to understand the implications for your retirement and senior living options. The numbers show that seniors who are married are typically more secure financially than single seniors.
More single seniors
Pew Research from 2019 found that nearly one-third (31 percent) of adults in the U.S. are single. Interestingly, the numbers are evenly split between men and women. But broken out by more granular demographic information, the numbers tell a more nuanced story.
Among men, the largest number of singles are those who are age 19 to 29, with more than one out of two (51 percent) identifying themselves as single. Among men 65 and older, just 21 percent are singles — making this the male age group with the fewest uncoupled people.
But for women, the statistics are quite different. For females, those age 30 to 46 are the least likely to be single, with just 19 percent of respondents classifying themselves as such. The female age group with the most singles is the age 65 and older set, where nearly half (49 percent) are single.
The Pew study notes that this discrepancy in when the two sexes are most likely to be single has to do with men’s shorter life expectancy and their tendency to marry or remarry later in life than women. But if you dig further into the data, there may be more to the story.
…but single by choice (especially senior women)
The Pew Research also looked at respondents’ dating status, that is to say, whether a single person was looking to date and/or enter a relationship. The statistics around this topic paint a rather interesting picture.
In nearly all age groups, men are much more likely to be “on the market” than women with 61 percent of single men saying they are looking for a relationship or dates versus just 38 percent of single women. Put another way, around one-third of men (37 percent) say they are NOT looking to date, whereas nearly two-thirds of women (62 percent) aren’t looking for a relationship.
This discrepancy in dating interest is most pronounced among older single people, however. Pew found that among those younger than 40, men and women are roughly equally likely to not be looking for a relationship or dates (33 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Among men and women age 40 and older, however, a large majority of women (71 percent) say they are not looking to date versus just 42 percent of men age 40 and older.
Broken out by age, a clear trend emerges. As the age bracket goes up, people are less and less likely to be looking to date or be in a relationship. In fact, those in the age 65 and older bracket are the least likely to be interested in dating with 75 percent saying they are “not looking” and just 22 percent saying they are looking to date.
A wage gap for women …and singles
This Pew data reveals that, for any number of reasons, many Americans are single, and many by their own choosing.
Looking specifically at the older people who are single, some are divorced or widowed and are not interested in another relationship, while others have never been married. Whether their relationship situation is by choice or circumstance, the implications for these single seniors’ earning power, and thus retirement savings, can be far-reaching however — especially for women.
Salary data compiled by the University of Minnesota shows that both married and single women, as well as single men, in every age group earn a fraction of what married men make. This gap in earning power only increases with age, however.
For example, a female and/or single 25-year-old might earn around $30,000, whereas a married male 25-year-old earns around $40,000. But looking at people who are 65 years old, the gap is much wider. At that age, a female and/or single person earns around $40,000 on average, whereas the typical married man at that age earns $70,000.
The impact of this earnings discrepancy
These salary figures explain, at least in part, why nearly half (46 percent) of single people are worried about running out of money in retirement, as compared to only 38 percent for those who are married, according to a survey conducted in 2017 by TD Ameritrade. All those years of lower earning power can really add up!
What’s more, the study found only 44 percent of single people are saving for retirement, as compared to 63 percent of married people. This survey also discovered that single people are much less likely to own a home than married couples (58 percent versus 90 percent, respectively) — an asset that many rely upon to fund at least a portion of their retirement.
All of these figures equal to a concerning scenario for many single people, and perhaps especially single women.
(Note: There is an assumption that, although they earn less than their married male counterparts, many married women do benefit in both the short and long term from the higher average salaries garnered by their husbands.)
>> Related: Can I Afford a Life Plan Community?
Planning is a must for single seniors and soloagers
I’ve written before about our nation’s increasing number of so-called “soloagers” or “elder orphans” — seniors who, either by choice or circumstance, have neither a spouse/life partner nor adult children. Soloagers — and even single seniors who do have adult children — may lack a support system and/or the financial means to address their age-related care needs.
For the many among this group who do not own their own home, another challenge they face as they grow older is accessing safe, affordable housing. This is on top of potential issues around legal matters, medical decisions, and more.
Single seniors can of course enjoy a happy, healthy, and fulfilling retirement, surrounded by loving extended family or a close-knit group of friends. But there are some crucial tasks they need to be sure to complete, like ensuring they have a will, power of attorney, and advance directives in order. (Truth be told: All seniors, regardless of marital status, should have these documents!)
Single seniors should also consider proactively making arrangements for their potential long-term care needs, since they do not have a spouse/partner who will be there to care for them and may not have adult children to help. Opting to purchase long-term care insurance (LTCi) and/or moving to a continuing care community (CCRC or life plan community) can provide peace of mind to single seniors, ensuring they will have access to any care they may need down the road.
Whether you are divorced, widowed, or single for life, the sooner you start planning for your retirement years, the more security you can attain.
FREE Detailed Profile Reports on CCRCs/Life Plan Communities