Retirement as a single person

According to BMO’s Retirement for One, about 43% of Canadian seniors are single. In the U.S., more adults aged 46-64 are remaining single. About one third of those were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010 compared with 13% in 1970. The average age in Canada of a woman becoming a widow is 56 and yet so much of retirement information is aimed at couples. Whether single by choice or one of the suddenly single, the decisions and choices about retirement need to be made on your own.

“Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.” Mae West

About 5% of those who are single have never been married. These people know that they need to look after their own retirement needs and have the freedom to make their choices without the negotiations with a partner. Because two can live more cheaply than one, these retirees will need about 70% of what a married or cohabiting couple would require to maintain their lifestyle. That can mean anything from working longer or saving more, to living frugally or finding a housemate.

“Love is blind but marriage is a real eye opener!”

Although divorce rates for most age groups have been falling, silver separation is on the rise. Many long term marriages are falling on the rocks of the daily grind, the empty nest, the other lover, or the reality of parallel lives that do not touch. Dividing assets at this stage of life can have a profound effect on retirement goals and plans. Some financial planners are getting designations of divorce specialists to help guide couples through the process with an eye to the bottom line of each person. The value assessment of pensions and the matrimonial home or homes, and the timing of dissolution and sale of assets can be emotional and a cool eye on the repercussions can be helpful.

Although men remarry more than women, each has to deal with the risks of remarriage including the attitudes of their adult children and the financial picture of their new spouse. This can create a minefield of emotions and reactions. One person’s comment about this idea of remarriage was, “I do not have the patience or energy to train another spouse.” Another commented, “At my age I do not think I need to tell the children! My will and my marriage are my business!” Those who have been through this do suggest that you avoid those looking for a nurse or a purse, a wallet or retirement plan if you are considering remarriage. Marriage is in part a business partnership and its break-up has financial as well as emotional impacts on the partners and their retirement options.

“I lost my best friend way too soon.”

The suddenly single through the death of a spouse is such a difficult blow for many. It is a challenging time to be making decisions about finances, retirement, estate settlement, housing, and moving on. Survivor benefits help widows and widowers, as does insurance, bereavement and support groups, as well as a team of trusted advisors. Service Canada has a publication called During Your Time of Loss: Information for Survivors. There is a website,, that provides information on grief and loss and coping with the death of a spouse. It can be a steep learning curve for many adjusting to life alone.

Maybe part of retirement planning includes thinking about what retirement would look like solo.

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