Women Solo Agers in India: Concerns, Challenges, and Coping Strategies


In India, an increasing number of women are choosing to remain single, which means they are likely to become Solo Agers. This study investigates the perceptions of single women in Mumbai about the concepts of women Solo Agers and Solo Aging, their potential of becoming Solo Agers, and the issues and challenges that women Solo Agers may face in India. And it proposes ways to address them.

Key Words:

India, Mumbai, single women, living alone, social network, women Solo Agers


Solo Agers is a term that emerged relatively recently in the United States and was originally coined in 2018 by this issue’s Guest Editor, Sara Zeff Geber. In 2021, AARP conducted a survey of Solo Agers, whom they defined as people older than age 50, who lived alone, were neither married nor partnered in a long-term relationship, and had no living children (Thayer, 2021). The definition of Solo Agers is sometimes expanded to include those who have children who live far away or are estranged (Nexus Insights, 2022).

Isolation and loneliness are two of the biggest risk factors for poor mental health in later life. According to Geber (2018), as we age, our social networks play a big role in our well-being, and Geber explains that child-free adults have found ways to develop healthy social networks, cope with difficult situations, and solve thorny late-life problems.

This concept of Solo Agers remains almost unexplored in India. As studies and forecasts on Solo Agers have already been done in countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others in Europe, the author felt it was high time to initiate such a study in India to explore and anticipate the concerns, challenges, and coping strategies of this growing high-risk vulnerable group known as Solo Agers.

In India, marriage is a compulsory norm, particularly for women. Patriarchy is the predominant system in Indian society and women are discriminated against at various levels. The ultimate goal in a patriarchal society is for a woman to get married and have children (Lamb, 2018).

However, in recent years, there have been major transformations in the status of women in India. Traditionally, women in India got married in their early 20s, but today women might either delay marriage or choose not to get married at all. Women may choose to remain single for multiple reasons: a preference for freedom, to avoid getting hurt, because they are choosy or dislike commitment, the pursuit of career advancement or further studies, cultural factors, poor health, memories of bad experiences from previous relationships, or a fear of change (Apostolou et al., 2020).

Building social networks was found to be one way women Solo Agers would seek to support their future lives.

Because most women in India marry, singleness is seen as a deviation from the norm. However, single women in India—defined as women who have never been married, as well as those who are widowed, divorced, or separated—still face social stigma and are looked down upon by much of society. And there is inequality between men and women when it comes to remarriage. While it is generally acceptable for a divorced or separated man to remarry, women who do so face social censure (Gandhi et al., 2016).

Solo Aging Background in India and Mumbai

India is a densely populated nation, and the older adult population is expected to increase by 12.4% by 2026, according to Government of India statistics. As societies like India modernize and industrialize, the requirements and demands of the aging population change, and these needs must be addressed (Thampi, 2021).

Between the 2001 and 2011 Census, there was a 39% increase in the number of single women in India, including divorced, separated, widowed, or never-married women (Viswanath, 2019). And according to the fifth round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of India conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the total fertility rate in India has declined from 2.2 (reported in 2015–16) to 2.0 (2019–21) (Times of India, 2022).

The Indian divorce rate also has doubled. There has been 100% increase in divorce rates in the past five years alone (Dummett, 2011).

With increasing life expectancy, decreasing fertility rates, increasing divorce rates, rising self-dependency of working women and financial security, and more women choosing to remain single, marrying late, and remaining childless, the population of single middle-age women is booming. This likely will lead to an increase in the number of women aging solo.

Due to the increasing incidence of solo aging in India, and the author’s intense interest in the topic, in May 2022 she conducted a study of single women in Mumbai.

Research Methodology:

Using a quantitative research method, the author interviewed 57 respondents face-to-face, all of whom were single women ages 25 and older who lived in Mumbai. Purposive sampling as well as snowball sampling technique were used by the researcher. Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) and MS Excel were used to analyze and present the data.

Major Research Findings, Statistical Analysis, and Results:

This unique social work research study was the first done in India to assess the perceptions of single women ages 25 and older about the concepts of Solo Agers and Solo Aging, their potential to become Solo Agers in the future, and their concerns and challenges about being women Solo Agers and Solo Aging. Study results also include the opinions of respondents related to the roles of various stakeholders to address the issues of and support the lives of women Solo Agers in India.

Respondents ranged in age from 25 to 78 years. Out of a total of 57 respondents who may eventually have a greater likelihood of becoming Solo Agers, 39 (68%) were ages 40 and older.

The singlehood status of the respondents was reported as never married (37%), widowed (25%), separated (21%), or divorced (17%). Out of the 57 respondents, 8 had children with whom their relationship was estranged or who were living abroad. Forty-two percent of respondents earned a meagre income of less than 5,000 rupees per month (or about $60 U.S.), which reflects very low financial status. It also was found that a majority of respondents (74%) lived in houses owned or rented by relatives, flatmates, or friends, which indicates a risk of eviction and becoming unhoused.

Potential of Becoming a ‘Solo Ager’

The Mumbai single women were asked whether they see themselves as remaining single and alone until they reach age 50, at which point they would likely consider themselves to be Solo Agers. The findings are analyzed and presented below:


Figure 1 shows that a little less than half of the respondents (44%) reported they absolutely would become a Solo Ager, including those who were already Solo Agers, and 23% reported feeling that this outcome was likely a possibility. Out of all respondents, 10 women (18%) were already Solo Agers. While 21% did not see themselves becoming Solo Agers, citing their own reasons, 7% mentioned they were still hopeful of finding someone to live with, and only 5% mentioned they would avoid becoming a Solo Ager by going to live in an institution.


Figure 2 depicts one of the major findings that, out of the 39 respondents who were ages 40 and older, more than three-fourths (76%) reported that they either absolutely see themselves becoming Solo Agers in the future or it looks very likely that they will be. This shows that for respondents ages 40 and older, perceptions of the potential for becoming Solo Agers has considerably increased.

Further, it was found upon analysis that merely the thought of becoming a Solo Ager made almost half the respondents (46%) feel scared and fearful.

Major Concerns and Challenges of Women Solo Agers:

According to study respondents, the major fears of women Solo Agers were the fear of having a lonely death, followed by concerns of facing health problems, facing financial problems, experiencing loneliness, having no support during a crisis or emergency, living without a caregiver, feeling physically unsafe, and facing the social stigma of aging alone as a single woman.

Coping, Preparation, and Acceptance:

The Mumbai single women were asked if they had considered ways to cope with the situation of becoming a Solo Ager in the near future and the responses are presented below, in Table 1.


Table 1:

Ways to Cope with the Situation of Being a Solo Ager

Ways to cope



Building social networks



Group living



Ensuring financial stability






Stay active and healthy



Social interaction



Personal attendant



Positive mindset



Shifting to an institution



Elder day care



Finding someone






                       (*Multiple Responses)

Table 1 shows that among the ways to cope with the situation of being a Solo Ager in the near future, the most common responses included building social networks (26%), followed by group living (16%), ensuring one’s financial stability (12%), cohousing facilities (9%), and a few other responses. The major preparatory measures suggested by respondents were ensuring financial stability and becoming health conscious.

According to respondents, interventions by major stakeholders such as government, civil society, social work professionals, and other older people can play an important role in supporting the lives of women Solo Agers in India, and respondents suggested various ways to reduce the concerns and challenges of these women. The greatest expected role of government was to give job preference and provide a pension to Solo Agers; the role of civil society was to provide financial support, and the major role of social work professionals was to help the Solo Agers in getting admitted to hospitals, as generally hospitals prefer patients be accompanied by a relative.


Due to the various pathways that can lead women to remain single, the number of women Solo Agers is expected to increase in India. Single women ages 40 and older have great potential to become Solo Agers. In addition to various strategies for coping with, preparing for, and accepting the situation, there is a need for various stakeholders to implement necessary actions, such as policy making by the Indian government to better support Solo Agers’ lives.

Author Acknowledgements:

The author acknowledges the support and guidance provided by her research guide, Dr. Smita Bammidi, during her study. The author also expresses special thanks to Dr. Sara Zeff Geber for lending her expert opinion and reviewing the interview questions used to conduct this research study, and for being a constant source of motivation.

Manisha K. Shah, MS, is a Master of Social Work student at the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan in Mumbai, affiliated with the University of Mumbai, India. She has worked in the healthcare sector and has master’s degrees in Biochemistry and Dietetics, has attended a management program for women entrepreneurs from the Indian Institute of Management, and has a diploma in business management.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/suprabhat



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