Solos Emerge from the Shadows
Mary B. Young
About one-quarter of adults over age 65 are Solo, and the percentage is even larger among the oldest age groups.1 Yet many Solos feel like freaks. They live in a world where it’s assumed that you, like other older adults, have children and grandchildren who will play an active role as you age. They can be counted on for rides and leaf-raking and coordinating your multiple healthcare providers. They’ll lend a hand when you downsize and a willing ear when you make critical decisions about where to live, finances, medical care, or choosing a health plan. Even though these assumptions aren’t always true— even for non-Solos—until now, they’ve shaped public policy and planning, community services, and other resources for older adults.
Too often, Solos are completely overlooked in the mix.
That’s beginning to change, however. Back in 2019, Davis Financial Group convened a group of about 70 local practitioners from a variety of fields: financial planning, estate planning, eldercare management, health care, senior services, volunteer programs, psychotherapy therapy and social work, senior living options, downsizing coaches and moving advisors. As they listened to short presentations about the demographics and unique challenges of aging Solo, heads nodded across the room. Again and again, we heard similar reactions. “This all rings true to me. I just never thought about it before.”
In 2020, we launched The Soloist newsletter, which now has over 1000 subscribers. It’s brought us a growing number of Solos as financial planning clients and created new opportunities to partner with our colleagues in other professions to meet the needs of individual clients. And it’s created a small community of practitioners in the Valley who “get” Solos. That’s a lot of progress in two-plus years, especially during the pandemic.
These changes aren’t just happening here. All around the country, there’s growing recognition that Solos are a significant portion of the aging population. Here’s what’s emerged thus far:
- Pros Working with Solo Agers (PWSA)
- In July 2021, Ailene Gerhardt of Beacon Patient Solutions convened a nationwide group of professionals whose work is relevant to Solo Agers. Many of us serve Solo Agers directly as advisors; some are experts committed to helping institutions, government, businesses, and other organizations understand Solo Agers and their needs. All of us are passionate advocates. We meet monthly as a community of practice to share what we’re seeing, hearing and doing in the world of Solo Aging. We’ve learned a lot from each other.
- Growing Demand for Information
- Most PWSA members are active public speakers, invited by professional groups―for example, attorneys, fiduciaries, daily money managers, and others― to help them learn about Solos. Some give talks for public libraries, senior centers, and other community groups. One member conducts grant-funded public policy research to help state agencies and non-profits understand the Solo population and its needs. Another consults with the senior living industry—including investors, designers, and developers―to help them adapt to the changing market. Homes will need to be different, they realize, because Boomers and Solos want to live their later years quite differently than their parents and grandparents did.
- New Books on Solo Aging
- Since we first began working with Solos, we’ve curated a list of recommended books and articles. It continues to grow. Two recent additions attest to the increasing interest among and about Solos: Anthony S. Park’s The Solo Ager Estate Plan offers a clear introduction to the issues that Solos need to address with an estate-planning attorney. Carol Marak, a long-time advocate for Solos, just-published Solo and Smart, a guide to all aspects of planning, from health and fitness to social connections and spirituality.
- New research
- A 2020 report from the U.S. Census documents the rise in childlessness among adults aged 55 or older. It also investigates the potential support systems for them as they age― a crucial public-policy issue since these elders won’t have children to help them. In 2021, AARP published, Solo Agers: Attitudes and Experiences, based on a study comparing Solos’ and non Solos’ thoughts about aging, financial security, happiness, social connections and end-of-life. The results of both studies are available (for free) in brief, accessible summaries and, for those of us who enjoy such things, in full-length research reports (also free).
- Groups for Solo Agers
- Solos are often surprised to discover they’re not a demographic oddity. That’s one of the first insights they say they’ve gained by they might gain by joining an organized group where Solos can talk about the experiences, advantages and challenges of aging on your own. These groups also have a very practical side. They provide a structure and tools to help members grapple with essential, nitty-gritty matters they may have been avoiding: Who will be my emergency contact? What’s my backup plan if I become incapacitated? What if I’m shy about asking for help? We’ll say more about the Solo groups in future articles.
- Navigating Solo Network
- As an outgrowth of her work with individuals and groups of Solos, PWSA-founder Ailene Gerhardt recently launched Navigating Solo Network, an online clearinghouse of resources designed for both Solos and those who work with them.
More to Come
As the Solo population grows and awareness spreads, we expect Solos will gain greater visibility around the country. That will happen in the Valley, too. There’s a lot that all of us―both Solos and those who serve them―can learn from these emerging developments, and from each other.
1 Elder Orphans Hiding in Plain Sight: A Growing Vulnerable Population, Maria T Carney et al., Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research (2016)
Securities and investment advisory services and financial planning services offered through qualified registered representatives of MML Investor Services, LLC, member SIPC, Supervisory office: 300 Whitney Avenue, Suite 600, Holyoke, MA, 01040, Tel: 413-539-2000. The Davis Financial Group, LLC is not a subsidiary or affiliate of MML Investors Services, LLC.