Despite concern about older adults living alone, these seniors prefer the solo life: 'I love not having to answer to anyone else'

An older woman with short gray hair holds her glasses while reading a book while seated.
Many older adults love the independence of living alone. Here's what they say about it. (Getty Images)

According to the Pew Research Center, 27% of U.S. adults age 60 and over live alone, compared with 16% of their peers in the 130 countries and territories studied. Despite pushback from their adult children and warnings about living alone — which has been associated with increased rates of depression for those who lack any emotional support — many older people wouldn't have it any other way.

While living solo may not be an option for some, plenty of older adults can, and prefer to, remain in their own homes. Aging in place rather than with family members or in an assisted-living facility equates to independence, which is just as important to someone in their 70s as it is to people in their 30s. Modern technology — from new medical alert systems and doorbell cameras to meal and pharmaceutical deliveries — has also increased safety and convenience for those who want their personal space without restrictions.

"Living alone lets me create my own life and rules," Pat Shea, a 63-year-old copywriter and stand-up comedian who has been living solo for 13 years after getting a divorce, tells Yahoo Life. "When I was married, I had to constantly think of how certain decisions would affect my spouse. Now I just answer to myself, and if people don’t like it, that’s not my problem."

She admits that loneliness can sometimes be an issue but keeps in touch regularly with family and friends. "If everyone is too busy, the loneliness can weigh heavy," Shea says. "I read a lot, so that helps — but having a cat really helps."

Pat's son lives out of town and wants her to move closer to him, but she's not quite ready to give up her independence. "I love the peace and quiet," she says. "I also don’t have to cook for anyone, and I can eat whatever I want — if I just want to have olives for dinner, that’s fine. I also love that I command the remote, and if I want to binge watch Downton Abbey, no one is trying to put a ball game on. But the best part is not wearing a bra when I’m home without anyone there to make any comments."

The number of people living alone increases every decade, according to U.S. Census reports, and is most likely due to a drop in marriage rates and a rise in kinlessness, or the lack of immediate family members. While there's concern about protecting vulnerable older adults who don't have community or caregiver options to lean on, there also those for whom living alone is plan A, not plan B.

Scott Watkins is in his mid-60s and self-employed. He tells Yahoo Life his three dogs are all the company he needs. "I love not having to answer to anyone else and living the way I want 100% without concern for what others think. My dogs are enough," Watkins says. Loneliness, he adds, "does creep in sometimes, but it doesn't affect me to the point where I'm actively looking for a soulmate because I truly enjoy the company of my dogs."

Keeping busy with work also helps but illustrates one downside of not having another person contributing to the bills. "With the high cost of living, finances are a challenge when you live on only one income," says Watkins, who works five or six days a week.

This financial strain is just one of many concerns typically raised by the loved ones of an older person who likes living alone. Will they fall or injure themselves? Will they remember to pay bills, take their medications or keep their keys in a safe spot without assistance? Can they prepare healthy meals and keep their home (and themselves) tidy? Will they have transportation for doctor visits and trips to the pharmacy and grocery store? Are they safe?

Lori Mitchell of South Florida struggles with many of these concerns when it comes to her 91-year-old mother, Alice May, who insists on living independently. "Although my mother is extremely stubborn and opinionated, she's also resourceful and self-sufficient," Lori tells Yahoo Life. "This comes from being widowed at 33 and raising four children on her own. She never had anyone tell her what to do, so after 40 years of living alone, she prefers doing things her own way."

Adds Lori, "I still worry, though. Mom has trouble walking sometimes and uses a walker, but she's still a little unsteady. She also cooks with glass cookware, which I worry she will drop and hurt herself — or worse, fall, especially after she mops the floor. She's too frugal to pay for a medical alert device but fortunately has our family nearby, plus lots of friends who visit daily to keep her company."

After Alice broke her hip from a fall, which was followed by hip replacement surgery, Lori and her family discussed the possibility of moving Alice to an assisted-living facility. "Some days, she seems receptive to the idea; other days, she's adamant she'll never go," Lori says. "Mom has enough income to live alone comfortably, so the rising senior care costs are not an issue for her. She's very stubborn, so I guess I must let her live life her way and not worry so much."

Other adult children are more comfortable with their parent's choice to live solo and respect their need for autonomy — as long as the single person is still highly functioning. Lorraine Ray, age 75, is one such woman.

"My adult son and his wife trust my decision to live alone," Ray tells Yahoo Life. "I love little freedoms like where to set the thermostat, what to buy and eat or how late to stay up. Luckily, I don't have to worry about finances because I live comfortably on my pension."

Ray admits, though, that there are other challenges: "For bigger decisions, it would be nice to have someone else's input and support," she shares. "I also miss having a shoulder to cry on, but that's why friendships are so important. The only other thing I'd wish for is a fix-it man in residence — that would be great!"

As for her future, Ray says, "I hope to live independently as long as possible. After that, it's in God's hands. If I end up in a facility, I'll just start a choir!"

"Many people are perfectly content living by themselves; it really comes down to personal preference," Kasley Killam, a social health and connection expert and author of The Art and Science of Connection, tells Yahoo Life "Introverts who enjoy solitude may not need to socialize as often to be socially healthy. Instead, living alone enables them to choose when to engage with others and gives them some much-needed balance."

Killam cautions, however, that living alone can cause loneliness and depression from a lack of social engagement. This may lead to a cognitive decline, creating a greater mortality risk. "Social isolation is linked to a host of negative health outcomes," she notes. "So, if you live alone, it’s important to be especially intentional about connection. Pay attention to how much interaction you’re getting and put extra effort into cultivating meaningful relationships."

She suggests creating connection goals by talking to at least one friend or family member daily and scheduling at least one in-person gathering weekly to stay socially active within the community. "The amount and type of connection that is fulfilling to you may differ from someone else, but another tip to staying social is volunteering with a cause you care about. Volunteering is a great way to get outside and involved in your community, not to mention meet new people and make new friends, and studies have shown that it can reduce loneliness."

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of Who Stole My Spandex? Life in the Hot Flash Lane and the voice behind the midlife blog Menopausal Mother. She is a regular contributor to AARP the Magazine, and her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, HuffPost, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and many others. She lives in sunny South Florida with her husband, four adult children, four grandchildren and two feisty pugs.