Nearly 1 in 6 adults age 55+ are childless

A new, first-ever report of its kind released today by the U.S. Census Bureau shows 15.2 million, nearly 1 in 6 (16.5%), adults age 55 and older are childless, and the levels of childlessness among older adults are expected to increase.

The report Childless Older Americans: 2018 uses data from the 2018 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to examine such circumstances as socioeconomic status and demographic charac­teristics, potential caregiving and financial support from family and the community, and health and well-being of child­less older adults.

Older adults who are childless in the U.S. are more likely to be college educated, working and white than those with children, and their numbers are growing.

More than 15 million adults, or nearly one in six Americans aged 55 and older, are childless, according to the report, which also says that number is expected to increase.

Older, childless American women appear to be better positioned than men when it comes to health and wealth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report.

The study was executed by the statistical agency to get a better understanding of childless adults because their numbers are growing due to declining marriage rates and an aging population. Although having children outside of marriage has become more common for young adults, marriage traditionally was considered a precursor to parenthood for the older generation, the Census Bureau said.

The report also compares these characteristics to those of biological parents of the same age group.

Highlights include:

  • Of all adults ages 55 to 64, 19.6% were childless, compared to 15.9% of those ages 65 to 74, and 10.9% of those 75 years and older.
  • Childless adults as a group were more educated than parents. About 38.4% have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 30.0% of parents. At the lowest education level, 34.5% of childless adults have a high school degree or less, compared to 43.3% of parents. Additionally, a greater share of childless adults 55 years and older were in the labor force, 43.7% compared to 40.1% of parents.
  • Among childless adults ages 55 and older, 85.2% were White alone; 79.0% were non-Hispanic White; 9.2% were Black alone; 3.4% were Asian alone; 2.2% were all other races or reported multiple races; and 6.5% were Hispanic (of any race).
  • About 22.1 million adults 55 years and older live alone, among whom 6.1 million were childless. This means that 27.7% of older adults who lived alone were childless. Childlessness was more common among older men living alone than among older women; 34.3% of older men and 23.6% of older women living alone were childless.
  • Living alone is more common among older adults who were childless than their counterparts who were parents. About 62.5% of parents 55 years and older lived with a spouse, compared to 40.2% of childless older adults.
  • Poverty rates are higher among childless older adults than they are among older parents. About 12.4% of childless adults had family incomes below the poverty line. Among parents, a greater share of mothers had family incomes below the poverty line (10.5%) than fathers (7.5%).

The report refers to childless adults as those who have no biological children; parents as those who have biological children; and older adults refers to those 55 years and older. SIPP is a nationally representative panel survey administered by the Census Bureau that collects information on the short-term dynamics of employment, income, household composition, and eligibility and participation in government assistance programs.

This report was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging.

More than 19% of people between ages 55 and 64 were childless, while that figure was 15.9% for those between ages 65 and 74 and 10.9% for those age 75 and older.

“This suggests that childless adults will make up a greater share of the older adult population in the future and underscores the importance of research such as this study,” said the report based on a 2018 survey.

A greater share of childless older adults were non-Hispanic white compared with biological parents, 79% versus 72.8%, and they were overwhelmingly born in the U.S. — 90%, compared with 84.7% for parents — according to the report.

When it came to physical health, about three-quarters of men and women with children, as well as childless women, said they had excellent, very good or good health. But that figure was lower for childless men, more than 71%.

Those older adults with children were more likely to be living with a spouse compared with childless older adults, while the childless were more likely to be living alone than parents, suggesting childless older adults have fewer sources of potential support in their homes, according to the report.

“As spouses and children are the primary sources of informal care in the United States … these discrepancies are concerning,” the report said.

Net worth varied by sex among older adults. Childless women had the highest net worth, at $173,800, followed by biological fathers at $161,200, while the median net worth for everyone over age 55 was $133,500, the report said.

The higher net worth of childless older women may put them at a greater advantage to hire paid care, the report said.

“Childless older women appear to be in a more advantageous position than their male counterparts in later life,” the report said. “They have better self-rated health scores and higher personal net worth than childless men.”

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