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Women in heterosexual relationships frequently end up alone in their old age, due in part to longevity and in part to the tendency to marry older men. The “Gray Gender Gap” isn’t just about companionship, it’s about economics.

The statistics on aging are regularly collected by various federal agencies and published for public analysis. The New York Times took a look at this year’s Older Americans compilation and drew conclusions you’d probably guess at, but are very depressing when confirmed. Basically, women take care of men most of their lives. Then those men die, and they’re left alone.


Loss of a long-term partner is terrible, but independence could send an older woman on a tour of self-discovery, book clubs, and water coloring. Unfortunately, it is usually far more difficult than that, especially if you’re poor. Apparently, we can’t escape that economic gap between men and women even after retirement. NYT’s writer Paula Span asked researchers about how being widowed hits women in the wallet:

“Women take more of a hit financially from widowhood and divorce,” said Deborah Umberson, director of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

How much of a hit? Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, has calculated poverty rates based on the federal Current Population Survey. Her findings: About 8 percent of married older adults are poor or “near poor.” Among unmarried men, the percentage rises to about 20 percent. For unmarried women, it’s 27 percent.

Dr. Umberson also says that economic difficulties are terrible for your health, as well as divorce and widowhood. The statistics show that among people over 75, twice as many women end up living along in comparison to men. Women aren’t just more likely to end up alone, they’re more likely to end up alone without any cash.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin

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