Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Close kin provide many important functions as adults age, affecting health, financial well-being, and happiness. Those without kin report higher rates of loneliness and experience elevated risks of chronic illness and nursing facility placement. Historical racial differences and recent shifts in core demographic rates suggest that white and black older adults in the United States may have unequal availability of close kin and that this gap in availability will widen in the coming decades. Whereas prior work explores the changing composition and size of the childless population or those without spouses, here we consider the kinless population of older adults with no living close family members and how this burden is changing for different race and sex groups. Using demographic microsimulation and the United States Census Bureau’s recent national projections of core demographic rates by race, we examine two definitions of kinlessness: those without a partner or living children, and those without a partner, children, siblings, or parents. Our results suggest dramatic growth in the size of the kinless population as well as increasing racial disparities in percentages kinless. These conclusions are driven by declines in marriage and are robust to different assumptions about the future trajectory of divorce rates or growth in nonmarital partnerships. Our findings draw attention to the potential expansion of older adult loneliness, which is increasingly considered a threat to population health, and the unequal burden kinlessness may place on black Americans.