A new report from the Mather Institute indicates that the number of solo agers, or “older adults who are not married, live alone, and do not have adult children whom they can rely on as they age,” is increasing in the United States. And this group faces a unique set of challenges. 

Per the data in the report, which cites the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 22.1 million solo agers in America — 28% of older adults. Because of their situation, solo agers are more likely to lack social support networks, which, in turn may contribute to increased loneliness. A survey of 805 respondents, of which nearly a quarter were solo agers, found that 42% of solo agers were not satisfied with their lives compared to 30% of supported agers. Additionally, 22% of solo agers reported having poor mental health compared to 13% of supported agers. 

Many solo agers also experience restraints that hinder their social lives. Distance is a noticeable issue with 28% of solo agers being more than one hour away from supportive friends and family while 30% of supported agers were less than five minutes away. Furthermore, 38% of solo agers reported having daily contact with friends or family, as opposed to 56% of supported agers. 

Compared to solo agers, supported agers reported positive quality-of-life beliefs.  Overall, 32% of this group felt they had friends and family to rely on compared to 16% of solo agers. Supported agers were also more likely than solo agers to have identified caregivers and made caregiving plans with 24% of supported agers responding they had made plans while only 16% of solo agers had done the same. 

The report makes a variety of recommendations to alleviate the burden on solo agers. These include incorporating more physical activity into their lifestyle, spending more time on self-care activities that spark enjoyment as well as maintaining social support networks (i.e., volunteering, special interest groups, etc.) of friends, neighbors and community members. The report also recommends solo agers be more proactive with making plans for their legal and financial futures given the challenges they often face.