4 Steps to a Happy Single Retirement

The number of seniors who are single and childless is growing. This group needs to be purposeful as they think about their health and finances and fostering companionship as they retire.

A person sitting alone on the edge of a pier looking at a beautiful mountain scene
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As her parents grew older, Carol Marak saw how they relied on their three children for care and knew that wouldn’t be an option for her. Without a partner or children, she would have to build a different future for herself.

Marak, 69, of Dallas, decided she had to learn as much as possible about how to age without close relatives to lean on. As one prong of that effort, in 2016 she started the private Facebook group Elder Orphans. Within a month, the site attracted about 1,000 members. It now has close to 10,000, who offer each other advice, resources and sometimes a shoulder to lean on. “It just keeps growing,” says Marak, who also runs a website with tips for the “solo and smart.”

The number of elder orphans—or solo seniors, as many prefer to be called—keeps growing. An AARP Public Policy Institute Report projected that the number of women ages 80 to 84 without biological children will increase from nearly 12% in 2010 to 16% in 2030 and to almost 19% in 2050. According to AARP’s own internal analysis of additional census data, 18% of men and women over 50 never had biological children; it’s 11% for those 75-plus. In addition, the number of Americans who never marry has been steadily growing; in 2018, 35% of those ages 25 to 50 had never married, compared with 9% in 1970.

Of course, people with partners or spouses and children can also find themselves facing retirement alone—through divorce or widowhood, if children move far away or become estranged. But those who have always or long been single and childfree know they have only themselves to rely on. They understand they need to be as organized and practical about their future as possible, both financially and physically, while also creating a lifestyle that builds connection and purpose, says gerontologist Mary Jo Saavedra. Good preparation, she says, can help you avoid “the majority of threats that derail a safe and fulfilling aging experience.”

Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Alina Tugend is a long-time journalist who has worked in Southern California, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., London and New York. From 2005 to 2015, she wrote the biweekly Shortcuts column for The New York Times business section, which received the Best in Business Award for personal finance by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Times, The Atlantic, O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle and Inc. magazine. In 2011, Riverhead published Tugend's first book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong.