By age 60 and beyond, there is a big difference in how women and men live. Women are far more likely to live alone.
I’m not just talking about the United States. A Pew Research Center report that analyzed census data from around the world found that on the average, women 60 and older are nearly twice as likely as men to live alone. Globally, among women, 20% live alone, compared to 11% for men.
Differences in Living Alone for Older Women, Compared to Older Men, All Around the World
The report looked separately at 6 regions of the world: Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America-Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, North America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In all 6 regions, the same pattern showed up: older women are much more likely to live alone than older men.
% of individuals 60 and older who live alone
(in order of the biggest difference between women and men)
Middle East and North Africa
The biggest differences occur in Europe and North America and the smallest in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Also noteworthy are differences in the overall rates of living alone. In Europe, more than a third of the older women live alone, and in North America, nearly a third do. The percentages of men who live alone are substantial in those regions, too, at 17% and 20%, respectively. Even in regions with the lowest rates of older people living alone, at least 12% of the women and 4% of the men live alone.
The report mentions the rates of living alone for only a few individual nations (rather than regions). Noting that all 20 countries with the highest percentages of older women living alone were in Europe, author Jacob Ausubel adds that in Lithuania, more than half of the older women live alone, and in Denmark and Hungary, 47% do. Only about 1% of older women live alone in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mali.
Why Do More Older Women Than Men Live Alone?
One answer to the question of why more older women than older men live alone might seem to be that women live longer than men. There are more of them left.
That’s true, but it is not a direct explanation for the difference because the findings from the report are expressed in terms of percentages. It doesn’t matter how many men, total, or how many women, total, there are if you just calculate the percentage within each group who live alone.
Men dying sooner may matter in a more indirect way. When there are more women around than men, then among those heterosexuals who want to couple up, men are more likely than women to find someone. That means that a greater percentage of men than women will live with a romantic partner, and a greater percentage of women than men can consider living alone.
Other factors are important in explaining differences in overall rates of living alone (rather than differences between women and men). Economics is a big one. In the U.S., for example, once Social Security was created, there were fewer impoverished seniors and more who could afford to live alone if they chose to do so. Economic considerations are also significant in cross-country comparisons; in places with greater economic development, more people are likely to be able to afford to live alone.
Economics does not explain everything. Cultural factors matter, too. If it is a custom to live with family and solo living is stigmatized, fewer people will live alone even if they can afford to do so.
There are other factors, too, but I’ll mention just one more: the worldwide rise of individualism. More and more people all around the world believe in personal choice, self-expression, and independence – all individualistic values. They think they should be true to themselves. If that means living alone, then more people will live alone.