After spending eight years as her parents’ primary caregiver, Carlene Davis, 57, started thinking about aging in place when she was 30. Davis, a black woman from Los Angeles, has no spouse, siblings, or children, and as she grew older, she realized she had no other family members to take care of her needs. Davis is one of about 1 million Americans who are not related.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, family members provide more than 95% of the informal care for older adults who do not live in a nursing home. But with rising rates of single adults (through divorce and never marrying) as well as declining births, there is growing concern about who will care for this large group of kinless seniors who have There is no partner or family member to care for. The concern is particularly acute for black women, who have the lowest levels of wealth and the highest rates of kinship, according to a 2017 study.
University of Maryland sociologist Chris Marsh, Ph.D., explains Luck This conclusion is short-sighted because it ignores the support systems built by single black women. A 2013 study found that Black Americans and Black Caribbeans have more extensive fictive kin networks, or family as you choose, than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Black Americans were also more likely to have support and daily interactions from their extended family members.
We have relatives, says Marsh. in his book The Love Jones CohortShe notes that single, middle-class black Americans have drawn on a long cultural tradition of forming relationships with people not related by blood, expanding their families beyond the traditional nuclear model.
the cost of being alone
Like other experts who study loneliness, Marsh says that standards and policies, such as those determining Social Security benefits and health insurance coverage, do not align with the unique bonds and networks of American single adults. As a result, living single is expensive due to lack of equitable coverage, reduced Social Security benefits, and limited ability to preserve wealth due to being the only person to generate income and benefits for a household.
Furthermore, experts say that US policy regarding single status is harmful to people’s economic well-being, and the treatment of this growing number of unmarried adults may have political implications. Jessica Moorman, Ph.D., a Wayne State University professor who studies the single socialization of black women, says single status is the most important policy issue that is not being discussed as a nation full stop, period. . She says the various benefits designated for married people are policy reforms that can easily be applied to single adults.
marital policies gone wrong [an] She says, given the already dire economic reality, I would argue that because over half of this country is unmarried, it’s one of the biggest political causes of voters that we could possibly have, right? You need half of all single people to get on the same page politically about something.
state of loneliness
According to September 2023 data from the American Community Survey, nearly half of US adults are single, including those who are divorced, widowed and never married. According to the survey, in 2020, more than a quarter of US households were one-person households. Additionally, the majority of American women are single, whose participation in the labor force is significant, which has been particularly beneficial to the post-pandemic economy. Despite these significant changes, policies providing social and legal benefits remain dependent on the Western nuclear family model.
Women in my interviews were aware of the fact that they had no marital partner, especially for additional Social Security benefits or care, which led them to intentionally create established family communities, Moorman says. Davis intentionally embodies this search for communities as she has arranged for support and care with long-time friends. “My healthcare power of attorney is a friend I’ve known since kindergarten,” Davis says, “I have a list of people in my trust to whom I’ve given HIPAA authorization,” she says.
Planning for the future as an illegitimate adult
Carol Tucker, 63, is a lab manager at a medical school in Atlanta, Georgia and has been divorced for nearly five years after 27 years of marriage. She says living alone can be challenging in terms of insurance and thinking about the future, who will take care of me if I am unable to take care of myself?
Carroll did her research and contacted friends to learn their strategies for dealing with the fallout from divorce. She says living alone has made her more agile in aging and preparing for the future. As she says, she’s ready to hang out. As a result, she amended her will and invested more of her income into her long-term disability insurance, and each year, she reevaluates her plans and financial situation. When seeking mental and financial support as a single woman, Carroll says she turns to her trusted circle that she calls her Senior Cabinet.
I am very fortunate to have a wonderful network of extended family, friends, and church community.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist who has written extensively on the single experience, says, Research shows that single people are more likely to stay in touch with, and exchange help with, their friends, parents, siblings, and neighbors than married people, while married couples are more likely to Stay away from each other, she says. DePaulo, author of the upcoming book Single at Heart: The Power, Freedom, and Heart-Filling Happiness of the Single Life, A summary of the unique social networks that often flourish in the lives of single people is as follows: Single people have one person rather than another. She says they are maintaining their relationships with the people who matter to them.
Delores Bushong, 76, is a retired school teacher of over 40 years who lives in Washington, DC. She has never married and has no children, and relies on longtime friends who live in the city.
She says that single adults should engage in much more forward-looking thinking, that is, planning for and anticipating scenarios of aging and death. She says, my personal representative right now is a friend, one of the things he does is [say] Let’s pretend you’re dead. I knocked the door, I came in. Can I find all the documents? Do I have access to all account numbers and passwords?
Delores’s core community actually consists of long-term friends and acquaintances who are involved in various civic things, including improving street lighting and working to protect forested areas within the city, as well as in her yoga and aquatics classes. Including volunteering and participating in their local. Village, a membership organization consisting of older people living in their own homes. So through that. I have met a lot of people.
inequality in aging
Experts say treating children, siblings, partners, spouses and parents as the only caregiving options ignores cultural norms for non-white families. Black Americans have always considered relationships beyond the biological. However, these support networks often do not have the benefits reserved for marital and family bonds. We need to think about marital status as a line of inequality, Moorman says, in the context of policy and how it works to exacerbate other inequalities.
Over the past decade, marriage has become increasingly linked to socioeconomic status and race, with more marriages occurring between white people and those with higher income and education. Additionally, couples receive greater financial benefits after marriage. Jeffrey Sanzbacher, professor of economics at Boston University, says that marriage is the result of inequality and then this inequality persists in the future.
Sanzebache says married people get two chances at health insurance and Social Security benefits, with having a spouse a second chance at either set of benefits. He says this hurts single people. From the beginning, you have this systemic option to reward marriage because we allow two people instead of one to take advantage of employer-sponsored benefits.
He points out that the Social Security policy was implemented in 1935 when most American adults were married and most white women did not work. That policy gave spouses access to Social Security benefits given to their partners. He says that single people do not get as much money from their Social Security contributions as a married person does. DePaulo says that when married people are given a full range of benefits and protections simply because they are married, while single people are denied those benefits, that is fundamentally unjust.
The number of single American adults is increasing. Those who marry do so at a later age; DePaulo points out that divorce is still high and remarriage rates are decreasing. This means that people spend more of their time unmarried than married, scholars say, and its time policy recognizes the intentional communities and supportive networks created by single people.
It is much easier for single adults to pay the tax rate of married adults. It’s very simple to say that the insurer, any legal adult who is related to this person in any way, whether it’s a sibling, a friend, or a non-marital partner, you can access these benefits, Moorman says.
Some developed countries have discovered this. In the UK, people who live alone get a 25% discount on council tax, which is equivalent to property tax in the US. Single senior adults in New Zealand receive Living Alone Allowance, in which adults over 65 who live alone receive a higher government pension payment to offset the additional costs of running a household on their own. Low-income residents living alone in Quebec, Canada can claim a tax credit. In Dublin, Ireland, people who live alone and already receive social welfare benefits may be eligible for extra payments.
Meanwhile, these disparities inspired Davis to found Sistah Aging with Grace and Elegance in 2019, a research and policy project focused on Black women ages 60 and older as part of California’s Master Plan for Aging. There is a framework in place to support the older resident population. , The initiative stems from Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order to develop a strategy to promote the health and well-being of California’s older adults, whose population is projected to reach 10.8 million by 2030. I wanted to think about what equality in aging would look like for Black women in California, Davis says.
Davis’s approach and the insights of scholars such as DePaulo suggest that achieving equality in aging will require policy changes and the political will to support older adults, as well as redefine norms of relationship status and value. is required. Everyone is entitled to basic human dignity. DePaulo says that a person’s worth is not defined by their marital or romantic relationship status, and their rights, benefits, and protections should not be tied to those statuses.
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