Older Adults Without Close Kin in the United States

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2017 Jul 1;72(4):688-693. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbx068.


Objectives: We document the size and characteristics of the population of older adults without close kin in the contemporary United States.

Methods: Using the Health and Retirement Study, we examine the prevalence of lacking different types and combinations of living kin, examine how kinless-ness is changing across birth cohorts, and provide estimates of kinless-ness for sociodemographic and health groups.

Results: In 1998-2010, 6.6% of U.S. adults aged 55 and above lacked a living spouse and biological children and 1% lacked a partner/spouse, any children, biological siblings, and biological parents. Kinless-ness, defined both ways, is becoming more common among adults in their 50s and 60s for more recent birth cohorts. Lacking close kin is more prevalent among women than men, native born than immigrants, never-married, those living alone, college-educated women, those with low levels of wealth, and those in poor health.

Discussion: Kinless-ness should be of interest to policy makers because it is more common among those with social, economic and health risks; those who live alone, with low levels of wealth, and disability. Aging research should address the implications of kinless-ness for public health, social isolation, and the demand for institutional care.

Keywords: Demography; Family structure; Kinship; Population aging.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Aging* / psychology
  • Demography
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health / methods
  • Public Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology