Single, Child-free, and Getting Older: Should I Be Worried?

Single and a boomer, yet want to live a Spinsterlicious life? Tune out the doomsters; look ahead without dismay.

Lately, I seem to be inundated with articles about how hard and sad and pathetic my “golden years” are going to be. As a single woman with no kids (a spinster), I, apparently, am due for a pretty bleak existence as I get older. I’m going to be lonely and broke, and in poor physical and psychological shape. I keep seeing these reports, but I never feel as if they’re talking about me. I’m not in denial . . . maybe I’m just optimistic. Or even a bit skeptical. Who are these people they’re talking about?

Lonelier, Poorer: The Outlook for Some Aging Baby Boomers Is Bleak is the title of one of these articles; it ran in The Atlantic recently. It says that many never-married boomers don’t have much of a support net, we’re more likely to be impoverished, more likely to be disabled, and less likely to have health insurance. Goodness. This is almost enough of a reason to make me run out and marry the first guy who’ll have me.

It has always been true that a segment of our population will struggle in old age, for all the reasons mentioned above, but I can’t help but wonder if this recent bunch of “bad news” articles is a backlash to all the “single is good” talk that’s bouncing around the media—my book, The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Child-free, and Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo, to name two.

Though all these “poor single baby boomers” articles should worry me, they don’t. Having kids or a husband is no guarantee of a graceful decline. Of course, when it works the way it’s supposed to, I know that having kids and a husband is a lovely way to spend one’s later years. Yet having a husband is no sure safeguard against a lonely, destitute old age. He might die before you do, or be infirm at the same time, or have split long before you reach the twilight of your life.

Kids are no guarantee, either. They may not have the wherewithal—or the will—to care for you and their own families. At the risk of saying the morbid, sometimes kids die first, or maybe they and you might be unlucky enough to have a poor relationship and they wouldn’t come around. I wish it would never turn out like that, but sometimes it does. I have single friends who worry that they’ll break a hip and be stuck somewhere, alone, but I don’t really think about stuff like that. I’m hoping to just drop dead one day.

So, despite not having a husband or kids, I’m planning (well, actually hoping) to have a good old age. I’m making regular contributions to an IRA. I have disability and long-term-care insurance. I own my home. I eat right and, so far, I’m in good health. I’m relatively likeable, and so I’m crossing my fingers that my friends and family will enjoy spending time with me when I’m old, and will even step in to take care of me if/when that time comes. These are the things I hope my married-with-children friends are doing, too.

So . . . I’m not going to get myself into a tizzy worrying about how horrible life will be when I’m old, just because I’m single. I appreciate the warning, but I have a life to live. Whatever happens, happens.