A disproportionate number of black women are “sexless” as they age. Advocates say they also deserve a social safety net

Carlene Davis, 57, started thinking about aging when she was still in her 30s, after being the primary caregiver for her parents for eight years. Davis, a black woman from Los Angeles, has no spouse, siblings or children, and realized that as she got older, there were no other family members to care for her needs. Davis is one of the nearly one million Americans who are single.

Family members provide more than 95 percent of informal care for older adults who do not live in nursing homes, according to the Population Reference Bureau. But as the number of single adults increases (through divorce and never marrying) while the birth rate declines, there is growing concern about who will care for this large group of unrelated seniors with no partner or family to care for. The concern is particularly acute for black women, who, according to a 2017 study, have lower wealth and the highest rates of consanguinity.

University of Maryland sociologist Kris Marsh, Ph.D., says Luck This conclusion is shortsighted because it ignores the support systems that single women build. A 2013 study found that Black Americans and Black Caribbeans have a larger imaginary kin network, or family of your choice, than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Black Americans were also more likely to receive support and daily interaction with relatives.

We have relatives, says Marsh. In his book The Loves Jones cohortHe points out that single, middle-class black Americans have drawn on a long cultural tradition of creating kinship for people who are not related, expanding their families beyond the traditional nuclear model.

The price of singleness

Like other experts who study single parenthood, Marsh says standards and practices like those set by Social Security benefits and health insurance coverage are out of sync with the unique bonds and networks of single adults in the United States. As a result, being single is expensive because it is not equitable, social security benefits are reduced, and saving money is limited because there is only one person providing income and benefits for a given economy.

In addition, experts say that the singleness policy in the United States is harming people’s economic well-being and that the treatment of this growing number of single adults could have political consequences. Single status is the most important political issue not discussed as a national issue, says Jessica Moorman, Ph.D., a professor at Wayne State University who studies the socialization of black women. He says the different benefits for married people are policy fixes that could easily apply to single adults.

Marriage politics escalated [an] Already a grim economic reality, he says, I’d argue that since more than half of this country is single, that’s one of the biggest political reasons for the electorate, right? You only need half the singles to get on the same page politically about something.

A state of loneliness

According to data from the September 2023 American Community Survey, nearly half of US adults are single, including people who are divorced, widowed, and never married. According to the study, in 2020 more than a quarter of US households were single-person households. Additionally, most US women are single and have a significant share of the labor force, which has been particularly beneficial to the post-pandemic economy. Despite these significant changes, policies that provide social and legal benefits tend to rely on Western nuclear family models.

The women I interviewed knew they didn’t have a spouse, especially because of Social Security benefits or maintenance, which led them to build intentional communities out of found families, Moorman says. Davis embodies this pursuit of intentional communities as she has made support and care arrangements with her longtime friends. My healthcare proxy is a friend I’ve known since kindergarten, Davis says. My trust has a list of people I have given HIPAA authorization to, she says.

Planning the future as a sexless adult

Carol Tucker, 63, is a lab director at a medical school in Atlanta, Georgia, and has been divorced for about five years after 27 years of marriage. She says being single can be challenging when it comes to insurance and thinking about the future. Who will take care of me if I can’t take care of myself?

Carol did some research and reached out to friends to learn about their strategies for dealing with the aftermath of a divorce. She says being single has made her nimble as she prepares for aging and the future. He is ready to convert, as he calls it. As a result, he changed his will and invested more of his income in his long-term disability insurance, and he reassessed his plans and financial positions every year. Looking for emotional and financial support as a single woman, Carol says she turns to him. a trusted circle he calls the Supreme Cabinet.

I am quite fortunate to have a wonderful network of extended family, friends and church.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist who has written extensively about singular experience, says: Studies show that single people are more likely to connect and exchange help with their friends, parents, siblings and neighbors, unlike married couples, who tend to be more isolated, he says. DePaulo, who is the author of a forthcoming book Single at heart: The power, freedom and heart-filling joy of single life, summarizes the unique social networks that often flourish in the lives of singles as follows: Single peoplehave The Ones rather than The One. They maintain their bonds with people who are important to them, he says.

Delores Bushong, 76, is a retired teacher of over 40 years living in Washington, DC. He has never been married and has no children, and relies on his longtime friends who remain in the city.

He says that single adults have or should contribute a lot to the future, i.e. planning and anticipating the scenarios of aging and death. My personal representative is a friend right now, he says: One of the things he does is [say] pretend you’re dead. I knock on the door and enter. Can I find all the documents? Do I have access to all account numbers and passwords?

Delores’ core community consists of truly long-time friends and acquaintances who are involved in a variety of civic causes, including working to improve street lighting and protect the city’s forested areas, as well as volunteering at her yoga and aqua classes and participating in local causes. The village, a membership organization, consists of elderly people living in their own homes. So through that. I met many people.

Inequality in aging

According to experts, considering children, siblings, partners, spouses and parents as the only treatment option ignores cultural norms for families who are not white. Black Americans have always considered relationships beyond the biological. However, these support networks do not receive the benefits that are often reserved for marital and family ties. We need to think about marital status as a line of injustice in both politics and its way of working, exacerbating other inequalities, says Moorman.

Over the past decade, marriage has become increasingly tied to socioeconomic status and race, with more marriages occurring among whites and those with higher incomes and education. In addition, couples receive more financial benefits after marriage. Marriage is a consequence of inequality and then perpetuates that inequality, says Boston University economics professor Geoffrey Sanzebacher.

Married people have two options for health insurance and Social Security benefits, with a spouse being the second option for benefits, Sanzebache says. This hurts lonely people, he says. Right off the bat, you have this systematic choice to reward marriage because we let two people instead of one benefit from this employer-sponsored benefit.

He points out that Social Security policy was enacted in 1935, when most American adults were married and most white women were not working. This practice allowed spouses to receive their partner’s Social Security benefits. He says that single people don’t get the same amount of money from their Social Security payments as married people. It is fundamentally unfair when married people are afforded many benefits and protections simply because they are married, while unmarried people are denied these benefits.

The number of lonely US adults is on the rise. Those who marry do so at a later age; divorce rates remain high, and remarriage rates are declining, DePaulo notes. That means people spend more time single than married, researchers say, and its time policies recognize the intentional communities and supportive networks of single people.

It is very easy to give single adults the tax rate of married adults. It’s very easy to say that insurers, any legal adult who is attached to this person in any way, whether they’re siblings, friends or non-spouse, you can get these benefits, Moorman says. .

Some developed countries have realized that. In the UK, people who live alone get a 25% discount on council tax, which is equivalent to US property tax. Single pensioners living in New Zealand receive Living Alone Allowance, where adults over 65 who live alone receive a higher state pension to cover the extra costs of running their own household. Low-income residents who live alone in Quebec, Canada can apply for a tax credit. In Dublin, Ireland, people who live alone and already receive social benefits can receive additional support.

In the meantime, these inequities inspired Davis to found Sistahs Aging with Grace and Elegance in 2019, a research and policy project that focuses black women on the California Master Plan on Aging, a framework for supporting California’s 60-and-older population. . The initiative stems from an executive order by Governor Gavin Newsomes to develop a strategy to promote the health and well-being of aging Californians. Their population is predicted to rise to 10.8 million by 2030. I wanted to think about what aging equity would look like for Black. women in California, Davis says.

Davis’ perspectives and those of scholars like DePaulo show that achieving equity in aging requires policy change and political will to support older adults and redefining norms about the status and value of relationships. Everyone deserves the basics of human dignity. A person’s worth is not determined by their marital status or romantic relationship, and their rights, benefits and protections should not be tied to those statuses, DePaulo says.

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