Who Will Care for ‘Kinless’ Seniors? Part 1

Source: Paula Span, The New York Times, December 7, 2022

Lynne Ingersoll and her cat, Jesse, spent a quiet Thanksgiving Day together in her small bungalow in Blue Island, Ill.

A retired librarian, Ms. Ingersoll never married or had children. At 77, she has outlived her parents, three partners, her two closest friends, five dogs and eight cats.

When her sister died three years ago, Ms. Ingersoll joined the ranks of older Americans considered “kinless”: without partners or spouses, children or siblings. Covid-19 has largely suspended her occasional get-togethers with friends, too. Now, she said, “my social life consists of doctors and store clerks — that’s a joke, but it’s pretty much true.”

Like many older adults, Ms. Ingersoll copes with an array of health problems: kidney disease, asthma, heart disease requiring a pacemaker, arthritis that makes walking difficult even with a cane. She’s managing, but “I can see a time when that’s not going to be true,” she said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it.”

An estimated 6.6 percent of American adults aged 55 and older have no living spouse or biological children, according to a study published in 2017 in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. (Researchers often use this definition of kinlessness because spouses and children are the relatives most apt to serve as family caregivers.)

About 1 percent fit a narrower definition — lacking a spouse or partner, children and biological siblings. The figure rises to 3 percent among women over 75.

Among older couples, cohabitation has increased as an alternative to marriage, but those seniors are less likely than married couples to receive care from their partners. Those in committed relationships who don’t live with their partners are less likely still.

In addition, seniors who are Black, female and have lower levels of wealth have particularly high rates of kinlessness.