Singles now outnumber married Americans

September 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

On the radio today Klinenberg discussed this trend, and said that it is positive, since living alone can be a time to recharge and find who we are. As woman living alone, I do recharge in my tiny studio in Berkeley. Yet, I am not sure that living alone in the same studio will be as rejuvenating thirty years from now, when it will be harder to negotiate its steep steps and minuscule entrance. On a larger scale, are American social policies ready to serve an increasing number of older unmarried Americans?

Radio show here:


A whole new world

September 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

An extract from my fieldnotes on the hidden phenomenon of massive age segregation in urban America.

As I deliver food for Meals on Wheels, I discover the magnitude of urban age-segregation. I uncover a whole new world made up of buildings filled with old adults, mostly living alone. These buildings are sometimes so vast and intricate that I get lost in their corridors. Some were schools or hospitals. In one of them, a three-story building, big enough to occupy an entire block, Georgia (the driver of Meals on Wheels) and I have five meals to deliver. Georgia carries four bags: as a novice I carry only one. To open the iron gate, Georgia buzzes a client. We cross a manicured garden, and enter the edifice through a wooden door. Before disappearing in a corridor to deliver her bags, Georgia tells me, “Go right, follow the corridor. At the end of the corridor you will find an elevator. Take it, go to the second floor, go straight to wing North, room Y213.” It takes me five minutes of meandering through the shiny linoleum of corridors to find the door; a smell of mothballs and soup hits my nostrils along the way. When I knock, a tiny lady opens the door wide enough to snatch the bag and exhale a thank you. For a split second I glance at a room filled with boxes and clothes on hangers. On the way back, even though I am careful to find my way, I exit from a wrong door and wait in vain for Georgia in another garden identical to the first one. We often joke about my terrible sense of direction.

Move or Suffer

September 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

My last article, coauthored with Jodi Halpern, has been published by the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

The title is ”Move or Suffer”: Is Age-Segregation the New Norm for Older Americans Living Alone?

And this is the abstract.

Despite ethical claims that civic societies should foster intergenerational integration, age-segregation is a widespread yet understudied phenomenon. The purpose of this study was to understand the reasons that led community dwelling older Americans to relocate into senior housing. Qualitative data were collected through participant observation and ethnographic interviews with 47 older adults living alone in San Francisco, California. Half of study participants lived in housing for seniors, the other half in conventional housing. Data were analyzed with standard qualitative methods. Findings illuminate the dynamics that favor age-segregation. Senior housing might be cheaper, safer, and offer more socializing opportunities than conventional housing. Yet, tenants of senior housing may also experience isolation, crime, and distress. Findings suggest that rather than individual preference, cultural, political, and economic factors inform the individual decision to relocate into age-segregated settings. Findings also call for an increased awareness on the ethical implications of societies increasingly segregated by age.

Yes, we are becoming more and more segregated by age, in many ways. Our hope is that this article will make the invisible segregation by age much more apparent. Thank you Jodi for joining me.

I dedicate this article to all the older adults living in age segregated settings.



July 8, 2014 § 3 Comments

“You know, I can live on the moon, I am a paraplegic, and I can live on the moon, it is just a question of will.” These are the words of a paraplegic activist recited by heart by Dave, a disabled man in his 60s who lives alone in North Beach, the Italian neighborhood of San Francisco. Dave and I meet in the local library, and Dave reminds me over and over again that everything is possible if there is a political will. In his words the struggles of the disabled merge with those faced by older adults living alone like him.

The bottom line is that young and old disabled, living alone or not, can remain in their homes if there is a political system equipped to allow them to do so, independently from their income. So let’s be very wary of articles popping up on the web with paternalistic titles sounding like “signs that tell you that mom an pop cannot live alone anymore.”

Personally, I want to use my energy to contribute to a political, economic and social system that will allow me to live wherever I want in the last decades of my life. Rather than on the cool moon, my wish is to remain in my community surrounded by persons I love, exactly as it is today.

Older Americans Living Alone: The Influence of Resources and Intergenerational Integration on Inequality

April 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am VERY pleased to announce that the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography just published my most comprehensive article on living alone and aging.

Its title is  “Older Americans Living Alone: The Influence of Resources and Intergenerational Integration on Inequality.” The abstract is below and the link to the full article is

This is important work as we need to raise awareness on the challenges of living alone in old age. We cannot create policies if we do not know what is the overall experience of living alone in old age, right? This is the value of in-depth qualitative methods. Ethnography rocks.

I also want to use this post to thank all the San Franciscans who helped me in this endeavor. GRAZIE GRAZIE GRAZIE!

I also deeply grateful to Corey Abramson and Chris Phillipson for their substantial comments on earlier drafts. I am also very grateful to Reiner Keller, Maryann Molinari, Frank Neuhaser, Robert Okin, Christine Trost and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. I also want to thank Carroll Estes, Sharon Kaufman, Eric Klinenberg, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes for their input throughout the research project.

And this is the abstract:

The number of older adults living alone in Western societies has steadily increased. Despite this trend, little is known about the overall experience of this population. In this article, I examine the condition of living alone in old age in urban America by drawing upon two years of participant observation and ethnographic interviews with older Americans living alone, as well as with participant observation. Findings contribute to the literature on inequality, with particular attention to the theory of cumulative disadvantage over the life course. First I reveal the reasons that make living alone in old age a unique condition. Then I discuss four profiles of older adults living alone based on observed empirical patterns: the resourceful, the precarious, the segregated, and the gated elite. A comparison of these profiles suggests that intra-cohort inequalities stem from the combination of resources available and degree of intergenerational integration.

Link to the full article is

Living solo in later life: What does it take for elders older than 80 to remain at home, alone?

January 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

The article that I wrote with my mentor Robert L.Rubinstein has been published by Aging Today. A copy is available here: Aging Today

Thank you Bob for inviting me to write with you!

Thank you also to Tom Broom, the financial consultant who helped me with the section on long term care insurance.  Tom has all the answers on that complex and elusive topic and can be reached at 650-314-1600.


December 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

How are you doing? I am blessed. This was the standard  reply of Lionel Sandiford, one of the older San Franciscans living alone who helped me with my research. Since he signed a disclaimer, I can reveal his identity.

This morning I attended the memorial for Lionel at the Canon Kip Center of the Episcopal Community downtown San Francisco. Lionel suffered a a stroke after having ridden a bus with pneumonia from Florida because he wanted to die in San Francisco, in his community. He literally left the hospital and jumped on a Greyhound to arrive in San Francisco and then die. I cannot imagine what thoughts went on his mind during the long ride.

Lionel was an inspiration for me and many others. A great and elegant  singer, a fine carpenter, Lionel fought for the rights of other seniors like him. He told me how much he wanted to leave his hotel room in the Tenderloin to have a kitchen where he would invite all his friends. He unwrapped  the fancy china he wanted to use to enjoy the meals with his friends.

ImageHe did not manage to move though. Yet, he created a community of friends that replaced the family. His family does not even know that he died since his body has remained unclaimed. Canon Kip did claim his body  and organized a touching memorial where we all sang with full lungs “Oh when the saints, go marching in, oh when Lionel marches in..” It was deeply moving. Other African American men and James Chionsini and I reiterated the importance to use the effort of Lionel as a springboard for claiming the rights of low-income older adults that do not have the luxury of an apartment in a city with very little affordable housing.


Dear Lionel, your immense spirit and wonderful voice will always be with us.  We are blessed that we met you.

Article on him:

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