New York Times: More older adults live alone, face housing challenges

Lack of inventory, high home costs and other factors have led older Americans to look for new housing solutions

The number of single-occupied households more than doubled between 1960 and today, climbing from 13% to nearly 30% — and the number of Americans living alone at or over the age of 50 increased at an even greater rate, according to a story published this week by the New York Times.

“Nearly 26 million Americans 50 or older now live alone, up from 15 million in 2000,” according to the Times. “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 is being driven by fundamental changes in perceptions and attitudes toward gender and marriage.

Divorce has also become more prevalent among older generations, and women have new opportunities for financial independence and career advancement — which was not available to prior generations of women, according to the story.

“People 50-plus today are more likely than earlier generations to be divorced, separated or never married,” the story states. “More than 60% of older adults living by themselves are female.”

In terms of the observable social and demographic impacts, Baylor University Sociologist Markus Schafer described the changes as “explosive.”

According to the article, Gen X adults may have a desire to move into communal living spaces as a throwback to what life was like in a previous chapter.

“Several Gen X solo dwellers said they had begun exploring options to live communally as they age, inspired, in part, by living arrangements they had enjoyed in college years and young adulthood,” the story notes.

In addition, communal living may be less of a personal choice and more of an issue with the lack of housing inventory nationwide, according to the Times.

“Because of zoning and construction limitations in many cities and towns, there is a nationwide shortage of homes below 1,400 square feet, which has driven up the cost of the smaller units that do exist, according to research from Freddie Mac,” the story states.

Homes that were built for families may also be difficult to maintain for older single adults, according to the story — and smaller options are limited. About 40% of new construction homes were smaller than 1,400 square feet in 1982. Now, that figure is just 7% of new construction projects.

“This has made it more difficult for older Americans to downsize, as a large, aging house can often command less than what a single adult needs to establish a new, smaller home and pay for their living and health care expenses in retirement,” the story notes.

Another issue that older Americans may face is that the smaller homes they’re interested in, such as condos, may be more expensive than the single-family home they may be trying to sell, according to Jennifer Molinsky, director of the Housing an Aging Society Program at Harvard University.

“And when they hold onto family-size houses well into retirement, there are fewer spacious homes placed on the market for young families, who in turn squeeze into smaller units or withstand long commutes in a search for affordable housing,” the story reads.

Older Black Americans also tend to feel these issues more acutely due to issues like redlining and discriminatory housing policies, the story notes.

Read the story at the New York Times.

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