In North Dakota, about 13 percent of residents ages 15 to 64 live alone.

In the District of Columbia, the percentage of residents who live by themselves in what the Census Bureau calls “nonfamily households” is about 20 percent.

Someday, those statistics could contribute to a hole in the supply of long-term care (LTC). Policymakers are hoping neighbors, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, children, roommates, and, above all, spouses will provide enough free help to keep frail older and moderate disabled people in their homes, without costly home care services, as long as possible. “Informal care” can maximize the quality of life of older people and people with disabilities and minimize the amount of paid, “formal care” they use.

See also: Busy Lives: How You Can Help Caregiving Clients.

Insurers recognize the protective role of having a spouse by offering discounts for married consumers who buy private long-term care insurance (LTCI).

The SCAN Foundation has estimated that about 44 million U.S. residents were providing informal care for adults ages 50 and older in 2009, and that 87 percent of the adults who needed long-term care were getting the services from informal caregivers. In June 2013, the Congressional Budget Officers said replacing the casual, blue-jeans brand of informal care delivered in the United States in 2011 with formal, paid, tuxedo-level care would have cost $234 billion.

One rip in the knees of blue jeans care: Fewer Americans seem likely to have ready access to family caregivers. Fewer are marrying. The percentage of U.S. residents ages 35 and older who have never married bottomed out around 6 percent in 1980 and climbed to 12 percent in 2010.

The likelihood that U.S. adults will have children, either inside or outside of a marriage, is also falling. The percentage of U.S. women ages 40 to 44 who have no children jumped to 18 percent in 2008, from 10 percent in 1976. Meanwhile, in 2010, 27 percent of U.S. households were one-person households, up from fewer than 10 percent in 1950.

Widower

 

Rose Kreider and Jonathan Vespa, the authors of a recent paper on the rise of the one-person U.S. household, say the number of one-person households is increasing partly because Americans are making more money and can afford to live on their own.

But the result is that men – who historically have benefited heavily from getting informal care from their wives – are much less likely to be on track to get wife care. In 2010, about 34 percent of U.S. one-person households consisted of men younger than 65, up from 24 percent in 1970.

Access to spouse care – or having the traits needed to have a spouse in the first place – can affect easy-to-measure acute medical care outcomes as well as LTC costs. Dr. Ayal Aizer of Harvard Medical School and other cancer researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in September 2013 that having a spouse had an obvious effect on the life expectancy of patients with cancer. At any given time, a married patient with cancer was 20 percent more likely to be alive than a patient with cancer and no spouse.

Married women with cancer were 16 percent more likely to be alive than comparable single women. Married men with cancer were 23 percent more likely to be alive than comparable single men. “For prostate, breast, colorectal, esophageal, and head/neck cancers,” the researchers wrote, “the survival benefit associated with marriage was larger than the published survival benefit of chemotherapy.”

 

Hands

 

Vicki Freedman and colleagues discovered back in 1994 that having any kind of attachment with anyone cut the risk of a woman entering a nursing home by two-thirds. For men, having a wife was by far the most important factor reducing the risk of nursing home entry. Men without wives were more than three times as likely to go into nursing homes.

See also: Rising Alzheimer’s creates strain on caregivers.

In May 2010, a team led by Judith Kasper of Johns Hopkins estimated in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences that living with the same adult child continuously reduced the need of entering a nursing home 48 percent, and that living with a spouse reduced the need 28 percent.

When people do enter a nursing home, having a spouse can reduce the amount of care they need. Anne Kelly of the University of California at San Francisco and her colleagues studied older people who stayed in nursing homes at the end of their lives. The single people in the study stayed in nursing homes 4 months longer than the married people.

Government agencies are trying to increase the supply of family care by providing more advice, telephone support and counseling access for the relatives who do still provide care.

One possible silver lining for single people and their LTC planning advisors: Women who live on their own may be better positioned to fund LTC planning arrangements than women who live with others. Robert Plotnick says unmarried women have an average of 12 percent to 33 percent more income and 33 percent more wealth than otherwise comparable married women. Unmarried, childless men have incomes similar to those of comparable men with children, but they tend to have more wealth.

The next page features a table giving the percentage of residents ages 15 to 64 who live on their own in each state and the District of Columbia. Interestingly, the two jurisdictions at the top of the table – the District of Columbia and North Dakota – are known for being great markets for private LTCI products.

To try to hint at what the future might hold for each jurisdiction’s supply of informal care, we also provide a table showing the percentage of working-age residents who live alone divided by the percentage of older residents who live alone. Older people are more likely to live alone in every jurisdiction. In states in which the gap between younger adults’ live-alone rate and older adults’ live-alone rate is narrower, that might be a sign the older adults’ live-alone rate will soon be climbing.

 

One-person households

 

Percentage of residents ages 15-64 who live alone

District of Columbia

20%

North Dakota

13%

Montana

12%

Colorado

11%

New Mexico

11%

Tennessee

11%

Washington

11%

Louisiana

11%

Missouri

11%

Wyoming

11%

Ohio

11%

Wisconsin

11%

Maine

11%

Vermont

11%

Minnesota

11%

Michigan

11%

Nebraska

11%

South Dakota

11%

Kansas

11%

Iowa

11%

Rhode Island

11%

West Virginia

11%

Nevada

10%

Arizona

10%

Alaska

10%

South Carolina

10%

Florida

10%

Georgia

10%

North Carolina

10%

Oregon

10%

Alabama

10%

Arkansas

10%

Virginia

10%

Maryland

10%

Oklahoma

10%

Indiana

10%

Kentucky

10%

Illinois

10%

New York

10%

Pennsylvania

10%

Mississippi

10%

Massachusetts

10%

Connecticut

10%

Texas

9%

New Hampshire

9%

Delaware

9%

Idaho

9%

Hawaii

8%

California

8%

New Jersey

8%

Puerto Rico

7%

Utah

6%

Source: Census Bureau

 

See also: Federal program boosts some states’ LTCI use.

How does the younger-adult live-alone rate compare with the older-adult live-alone rate?

 

Percentage of residents ages 15-64 who live alone

Percentage of residents ages 65 and older who live alone

Percentage of younger adults who live alone divided by percentage of older adults who live alone

District of Columbia

20%

37%

55

Hawaii

8%

17%

45

Nevada

10%

22%

45

Colorado

11%

25%

45

Arizona

10%

22%

44

Alaska

10%

22%

44

New Mexico

11%

25%

42

Montana

12%

28%

42

South Carolina

10%

24%

42

Tennessee

11%

25%

42

Florida

10%

24%

42

North Dakota

13%

30%

41

Georgia

10%

24%

41

Washington

11%

26%

41

North Carolina

10%

25%

41

Louisiana

11%

26%

41

Oregon

10%

26%

40

Missouri

11%

27%

40

Wyoming

11%

27%

40

Ohio

11%

28%

40

Alabama

10%

27%

39

Wisconsin

11%

28%

39

Maine

11%

28%

39

Vermont

11%

27%

39

Arkansas

10%

26%

39

Virginia

10%

25%

39

Minnesota

11%

28%

39

Texas

9%

23%

39

Michigan

11%

27%

38

Nebraska

11%

29%

38

New Hampshire

9%

24%

38

Maryland

10%

25%

38

Oklahoma

10%

27%

38

South Dakota

11%

29%

38

Indiana

10%

27%

38

Delaware

9%

24%

38

Kansas

11%

28%

38

Kentucky

10%

28%

38

Iowa

11%

29%

37

Rhode Island

11%

30%

37

West Virginia

11%

29%

37

Illinois

10%

28%

37

New York

10%

28%

37

Pennsylvania

10%

28%

37

Idaho

9%

24%

36

Mississippi

10%

27%

35

Massachusetts

10%

29%

35

Connecticut

10%

27%

35

California

8%

23%

34

Puerto Rico

7%

21%

33

New Jersey

8%

26%

32

Utah

6%

21%

29

Source: Census Bureau.

 

See also: Top 15 cheapest states for long-term care costs: 2014.