Assessing the Ups and Downs of Life For Our No-Longer-Young Singles

The world lavishes attention on young singles, as an evening of TV will indicate. There’s no shortage, though, of singles in the 40-69 age bracket. Census data show that about one-third of 40-69s are unmarried (including the formerly married). A survey conducted for AARP The Magazine looks at how they lead their single lives.

Contrary to what young folks might suppose, unmarried 40-69s haven’t settled into a life of gloomy spinsterhood. When respondents were asked to gauge their lives at present on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), 39 percent picked an 8 or higher; just 7 percent picked a 3 or lower. Responses were even more positive when people were asked to forecast how their lives would be five years hence, with 62 percent picking an 8 or higher, vs. 5 percent picking a 5 or lower. That’s not to say all is well. Asked how much “stress, strain or pressure” they’ve been under in recent months, 10 percent said “almost more than I could bear or stand” and 22 percent said “quite a bit.” Still, single 40-69s are a robust cohort. A solid majority rated their health as “excellent” (10 percent), “very good” (30 percent) or “good” (36 percent); fewer than one-quarter termed it “fair” (17 percent) or “poor” (5 percent).

What do they like best about being single? Picking two choices from the pollster’s menu, respondents gave the most mentions to “more personal freedom, independence” (54 percent), “having my house and other things the way I want them” (38 percent) and “not having to answer to or deal with another” (28 percent). What do they like least about living single? “Not having someone around” (41 percent), “being on my own, not having enough money” (24 percent, skewed toward female respondents) and “fear of being alone in the future” (21 percent).

As these numbers imply, dating is a big deal for unmarried 40-69s. Thirty-one percent report being in an “exclusive” dating relationship, and another 32 percent are dating non-exclusively. Most of the rest would be happy to be dating if the opportunity arose, with just 9 percent declaring themselves downright averse to doing so. When those dating or open to dating were asked to give the “single most important reason” for their interest in it, the top vote-getter was “have someone to talk to/do things with” (49 percent), with “have fun” as the runner-up (18 percent). Proving that an old dog is still a dog, men were more than five times as likely as women to say their main interest in dating is to “fulfill my sexual needs” (11 percent vs. 2 percent).