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Census: More than 25 Percent of Bay Area Seniors Live Alone

Older women are more likely to live on their own than older men

The Bay Area is getting older, and many of the region’s senior citizens live alone.

New census numbers released Thursday show more than 220,000 Bay Area residents 65 and older live by themselves, an increase of approximately 30,000 over the past decade. The growth in the region's older population comes as the state is dramatically cutting services to senior citizens.

More than one in four Bay Area seniors live alone, according to the census, with women twice as likely as men to live on their own.

In the Bay Area, 157,000 women 65 and over live alone compared to just 66,000 men. In every county in the region, more older women live alone than older men. Experts say that's not only because women have a longer life expectancy, but also because women are less likely to remarry after the death of a spouse.

“Studies show single women are more satisfied and happier than married women, while men in general report greater self-satisfaction when married,” said Meredith Minkler, professor of health and social behavior at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

“One of the things about living alone is you get to live by your standards,” added B.J. Bryan, treasurer of the Older Women’s League’s Santa Clara Chapter.

Bryan, a 75-year-old retired software engineer, still lives with her husband of 48 years, but said most of the Older Women’s League’s members live alone. Many widows, she said, find living alone “kind of liberating.”

“If you want the toilet seat down, it will stay down,” Bryan said laughing. “If you don’t feel like cleaning up, you don’t have to.”

But Minkler, of UC Berkeley, cautions that for many older women “the golden years are not so golden.”

“Women are more likely to be dependent on social security as a primary source of income,” she said, and tend to be heavily dependent on social services, that are currently being cut by politicians who seek to close state and local budget shortfalls.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed eliminating adult day care services and scaling back In-Home Support Services for the elderly as part of his plan to close the state’s $26 billion gap.

In March, Brown signed legislation that scaled dramatically scaled back adult day care, but set aside $85 million as seed money to start a new program with as-yet-unappropriated federal money.

Christina Olague, outreach coordinator of Senior Action Network, said even these more modest cuts will likely be “devastating” to seniors in San Francisco, many of whom live in SRO hotels in the Chinatown, the Tenderloin and South of Market.

In the Bay Area, San Francisco has the highest percentage of seniors living alone at 31 percent.

“A lot of these individuals who live by themselves are able to survive by themselves because they have In Home Support Services,” she said.

“What we find frequently is that even healthy seniors need help with shopping, cooking, and cleaning,” she said.

Getting around is perhaps the biggest issue for seniors living alone, said Bryan of the Older Women’s League, especially when health issues begin to impair the ability to drive.

“Here in Silicon Valley, you have to drive to get everywhere,” she said.

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