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Growing numbers of elderly women will live alone: how should we respond?

David Reher, chair professor of Sociology, Complutense University of Madrid; Miguel Requena, chair professor of Sociology, UNED; Adaptation: María Ramos, post-doctoral researcher at the Carlos III University of Madrid
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Although civil status is crucial, having children is a determining factor in the probability of living alone at advanced ages. Independently of civil status, those who have not children are more likely to live alone than those who do have children. On average nearly 30% of women aged over 65 years live alone, but the figure is higher among those who never had children (38.3%) than among those who did (26.4%). In any event, although having children tends to reduce the probability of living alone, it does not determine it completely.
Key points
  • 1
       There are over one million two hundred thousand women aged over 65 years who are living alone in Spain.
  • 2
       The proportion of women aged over 65 years that live alone never ceases to increase: in 1981 they barely represented 19% and today they represent nearly 30%.
  • 3
       Independently of civil status, women without children have more probabilities of living alone at advanced ages than those who do have children.
  • 4
       It is estimated that towards the year 2031 there will be nearly two million women aged over 65 years living alone.
Women aged over 65 years that live alone in Spain
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Civil status greatly influences the probability of living alone at advanced ages. The majority of women aged over 65 years that are married live with their partners and consequently there are few that live alone, fewer than 3%. In contrast, there are many more women without company in the household among widows, single or separated and divorced women.

Projections for 2031

It is estimated that towards 2031 there will be 1,876,000 women aged over 65 living alone. This projection is derived from the information contained in the Population Censuses. For this, two elements are taken into account: 1) the effect of the number of children on the probability of living alone at advanced ages and 2) the number of women aged over 45 that have already completed their reproductive cycle. Knowing the current tendencies and the effect of the number of children on the probability of living alone at advanced ages, it is possible to estimate how many of them will live alone in the future.

A vulnerable collective

Living without company at advanced ages is associated with greater social isolation and the risk of illnesses, as well as lower levels of psychological wellbeing, personal satisfaction and perceived quality of life.

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