November 01, 2016

Aging Outside the Traditional Family: Problems and Possibilities

By Cate Russell, Hina Qureshi, Deirdre Lok

As the United States’ substantial baby boomer population ages, a significant and growing portion is doing so outside the confines of the traditional nuclear family. The number of single-person households (including the never-married, divorced, and widowed) steadily increased from 18 percent in 1970 to nearly 27 percent in 2003, according to U.S. Census Reports (Jane Gross, Alone in Illness, Seeking Steady Arm to Lean On, N.Y. Times, Aug. 26, 2005, Demographic trends also suggest that U.S. households are childless at increasing rates. According to U.S. census data, the number of women who have not given birth by the ages of forty to forty-four jumped from approximately 10 percent in 1980 to nearly 19 percent in 2010 (Phyllis Korkki, Childless and Aging? Time to Designate a Caregiver, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2012, This trend is likely to grow as the baby boomers age. Legal structures should adapt to reflect the United States’ cultural shift toward more single-person households and provide greater protections for this vulnerable population in old age.

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