The Solos Are Coming, the Solos Are Coming
Mary B. Young
The Baby Boom generation is often likened to the “pig in the python,” a demographic bulge that has disrupted every institution it passed through. Schools needed double sessions to accommodate the swelling numbers of students. Teenaged Boomers rejected their parents’ rules about dress, dating and hair length. As college and university students, they bridled against traditional education and championed changes in sexual behavior and women’s roles.
Baby Boomers also altered patterns of adulthood. Compared to their parents, they married less, divorced more, were more likely to live with a non-spouse partner and had smaller families—or no kids at all.
Today, aging Boomers are reinventing what it means to be “elderly.” Among other factors that set them apart from previous generations, they are much more likely to be Solos, i.e., age 65 and older and not have a spouse, partner, and/or adult children who can support them as they age.
But Baby Boomers are only the leading edge.
Defining the Generations
Generation Born between Their Age in 20221
|Generation||Born Between||Their Age in 2022|
|Gen Z||1997-2012||9-24 years|
|Millennials/ Gen Y||1981-1996||25-40 years|
|Gen X||1965-1980||41-56 years|
|Baby Boom||1946-1964||57-75 years|
Recently, we met with a 40-year old woman whose parents are long-standing clients of the Davis Financial Group. She had never married, probably never would, nor did she expect to have children. “I‘m alone and I expect to be alone my entire life,” she said matter-of-factly, without regret. Now that she had entered early-middle-age, she was ready to make realistic plans about her long-term future.
We’re working with a growing number of people like her: Solos-to-be. It’s a trend that’s clearly evident in demographic statistics. When it comes to marriage and parenthood, the next two generations after the Baby Boom are behaving quite differently than their parents and grandparents. (It’s still too early to tell about Gen Z.)
The U.S. marriage rate is now at the lowest level since the federal government began keeping marriage records in 1867. Among the age cohort that’s 25 to 50 years old (regarded by demographers as the most likely time for people to wed), the percentage who have never married quadrupled from 9 percent in 1970 to 35 percent in 2018.2 Not only are younger adults delaying marriage, a growing number are unlikely to ever marry.
There are similar declines in parenthood. The number of births in 2020 was 4 percent below the previous year and the lowest since 1979. The country’s general fertility rate—defined as the number of children born to women from 15 to 44 years old—dropped between 2015 and 2018 by 2 percent annually.3
Another way to understand these demographic changes is to look at the family situations of Millennials, Gen X, Boomers. and the Silent Generation. The chart below compares the percentage of each generation who lived with a “family of their own”—that is, a spouse and/or child —when they were ages 23 to 38 years old, the age when young adults traditionally start families. These “typical” families were once the majority, comprising 69 percent of the Boomers and a whopping 85 percent of their parent’s generation. The share has steadily declined ever since, however. The portion of Millennials ages 23 –38 who are not living with a spouse and/or at least one child has tripled since the Silent Generation were the same age, as shown in the chart below.4
What This Means for Solos
These two trends—the declining rates of both marriage and parenthood—mean that by the time Gen Xers and Millennials are age 65 or older, they’ll have an even larger percentage of Solos than the Boomer generation does today.
That time is fast approaching. The oldest members of Gen X are already nearing age 60.
Solo Boomers often feel like outliers because their circumstances don’t mirror what society still regards as typical for older adults. Many don’t realize how many others are in the same pot―or will be as they grow older. That’s part of the reason we launched The Soloist two years ago: to raise awareness that being Solo isn’t unusual and becomes increasingly common the older we get.
Once again, the Baby Boom is disrupting things. Now it’s redefining the profile of America’s older population, including the unprecedented number of Solos.
Following close behind them, the population of Solo Gen Xers and Millennials will be even larger.
4 https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/27/as-millennials-near-40-theyre-approaching-family-life differently-than-previous-generations
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