I’m Getting Older. Should I Be Worried?


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.  According to these articles, 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.
I know that a  lot of single women are worried about what will happen to them when they’re old.  Do you?   
NOTE: The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree— has been published and is available here and  hereand on Amazon.

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This entry was posted in aging Baby Boomers, Eric Klinenberg, getting older, Going Solo, Lonelier Poorer, single women, spinster, spinsterlicious, The Atlantic, The Spinsterlicious Life. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to I’m Getting Older. Should I Be Worried?

  1. AutumnSylver says:

    I don't really worry that much. I know I'll have friends to keep me company, as well as my sisters, brother, and nieces and nephews.
    I think what people who write articles like this forget is that we save a lot of money by not having kids. Money that we can put towards a retirement savings account so that we can hire someone to take care of us if we need it.
    And, by not having kids, we have lots of extra time and money to eat right and exercise, keeping ourselves fit into old age.

    • Kira says:

      I think they’re forgetting that we do have friends….that article is a load of shit. I know that Charlotte Gerson is/was married and did have kids, but the reason why she’s so healthy isn’t because of that.

  2. Annabelle says:

    I'm hoping that regardless of whether I ever marry or have kids, I will have a support system at that point. I have other family, and a support system is something you build. And being impoverished is something you can do a lot to plan against.

  3. Smokie says:

    I think the articles are speaking to women who DON'T have/aren't doing these things: “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.”

  4. eleanore says:

    @Anonymous: I love the idea of a Golden Girls arrangement, too. I just gotta hope 3 friends I can stand to live with are still alive and kicking

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am almost 65 years old and I left a miserable “partnership” of over 20 years about 2 years ago. I have sort of “retired” and am living on much less money. had a heart attack 5 years ago (which runs in the family). I now eat healthier, have no stress in my life – and the “less money” part seems like no big deal to me now. I have no children, so qualify as a spinster as well. BUT, there are no guarantees in life and nursing homes are 90% women since we commonly outlive our spouse anyway. The best we can do is take care of ourselves – my friend and I are considering some sort of “Golden Girls” living arrangement for our future years. I think that is a far better alternative and gives us care, companionship and some degree of protection. This is something every one of us has in our future – married or not. I do agree re: euthanasia, however. Saw my father in unbearable agony from septicemia (from a neglected, infected bedsore) and could do nothing. We as a society need to do MUCH more.

  6. Julia says:

    Lisa – exactly what I wanted to say before I got twisted up in my own worries: yes, I'm concerned, but spouse/childrenl/lack thereof are neither the cause nor the solution. If anything, they're a smokescreen.

  7. Lisa LBC says:

    I see articles like that and the conspiracy theorist in me starts to wonder what the benefit to society or these people is in trying to scare everyone into marriage. But I digress …

    The truth is that unless you happen to drop dead before you are unable to care for yourself, there are simply few good alternatives, children, husband, or not. Children rarely are able to physically care for their parents — my mother is 72. Her mother is 96 and in a nursing home because she can't walk and my mother is physically unable to move her. My point is, children may also be too old to deal with you when you get to that point, too.

    I could go on, but I think concern over getting old is something that everyone has, married or not, and rightly so. Being married or having children is a false sense of security. I think we as a society need to address this.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Janine – your post is hillarious!!

    Eleanore – another example for you – what about kids who go overseas to work and end up living there? In this modern era it's happening more often and is another example of how you can't guarantee that your kids will be there for you.

    And about ill-health in old age – ill health is one thing …. it happens to everyone. But at a certain stage I hope that there will be voluntary euthanasia available for untreatable severe suffering or the dying process. It's only legal in a handful of countries unfortunately. It's something that I feel passionately about. So as long as you don't leave anything too late and you prepare yourself you can even control any intolerable suffering of the dying process on your own too. You won't need a husband 😉


  9. Janine says:

    Too true, Tricia. No guarantees. My father had 5 daughters, and he just became a right pain in the arse in old age getting passed around hot-potato style among reluctant family members, terrorising the local pub and hanging around loan shark offices. His ex-wife number 2 has him living mostly booze-free now in his own room in a house handed to them both (just extremely lucky).
    I often shudder at the thought I could end up like him, only with no kids, but the best I can do is take steps now to ensure I won't be that burden. Stop drinking like he did, for a start… Work on my friendships a bit more and get my financial crap together.
    Really, all I'll actually NEED in the future is a really great chair and a TV. It's not like I'll feel the need to ride through Paris in a sportscar with the warm wind in my hair. One thing I know I'll never need is some stinky, farting, grumbling old bastard hanging around getting in my face – I'll already have one of those – ME.

  10. Julia says:

    Wow – what timing. I spent much of this week thinking about exactly this topic.

    Old age can be – frequently is – very, very hard. I tried to be a companion to my father during his last years and the simple truth was that he hated what old age did to him, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the situation. He had love and support and children and old age still stole his strength and his quickness and his mental capacity and his privacy and his dignity.

    While I am putting away money as best I can, the truth is I'm going to (eventually) have to name a guardian, if/when I become truly aged — and I'm going to hate that. But I've also learned from my father's experience. I plan to build a very good relationship with my doctor. Genetically I'm likely to develop heart disease, and at some point I'm hoping I'll be wise enough to stop treating it. Just – let me live while my heart beats, and let me go at my natural time.

    It *is* a concern, because I don't want distant relatives dealing with care issues for an elderly lady they hardly know. And I want to make sure I have interests I can pursue if my eyes go, or my hearing. If I make it to old age, I want to have some tools on my side…

    Sorry, you touched a nerve with this one.

  11. Tricia says:

    Amen… Whatever happens, happens. How many old folks sit in nursing homes with children that never come to see them? This breaks my heart. It doesn't matter whether you have a spouse, kids.. Or not… It's about character. If you have friends , and a support system, they will be there no matter what.
    I try very hard to be kind to the elderly ( and they are part of the population I counsel).. Why? Because I will be there some time. We all get old. Part of life. God rest my grandparents souls.. But they were married 64 years before the 1st one departed, and they were miserable.. Fought constantly. There was love I'm sure- but you never knew it.
    Getting old does suck.. But as I've always said: I would rather be happy mentally and emotionally alone, than miserable with someone- and with kids that could give a care less and never come visit you.

  12. Yes – I do & no I don't. I'm not a spinster. I was married and now divorced. I have no children. It would be nice to have kids that care about me. But as you point out just having children is no guarantee of care. I went back to school in mid-life. I just finished my master's a year ago. I am happy with my career choice. But used up my savings going to school. I am entering my fifties as a renter with student loan debt, a chronic illness and a too small IRA. However, I enjoy my work. I believe that choosing to take risks to get to this point was worth it. If I had kids I may not have had the “luxury” of going back to school. But you remind me that I need to look into insurance options for disability and long term care.

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