Do you know someone over 50 who doesn’t have children? I bet you do, because 19.4% of baby boomer women never had kids. That means one in five of the baby boomer women you know doesn’t have adult children to help them as they age. I call them Solo Agers.
I write frequently about solo aging and I thought it might be kind of fun to take a peek at high-profile child-free people, today and in history. With a little research, I uncovered thousands of names of those in the public eye who had never had children. I whittled it down to a manageable roster of people who are relatively well known to those of us living today:
Actors and Movie Stars: Tallulah Bankhead, Kathy Bates, Jacqueline Bisset, Brenda Blethyn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Delta Burke, Raymond Burr, Kim Catrall, Richard Chamberlain, Stockard Channing, Patricia Clarkson, Frances Conroy, Dana Delaney, Bo Derek, Portia DeRossi, Dame Edith Evans, Linda Evans, Barbara Feldon, Ralph Fiennes, Eva Gabor, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Gloria Gaynor, Lillian Gish, Sharon Gless, Jeff Goldblum, Hugh Grant, Kathrine Hepburn, Bonnie Hunt, Julie Kavner, Madeline Kahn, Charles Laughton, Linda Lavin, Laura Linney, Carole Lombard, Jack Lord, Hattie McDaniel, Roddy McDowell, Ian McKellen, Kristy McNichol, Steve, Martin, Melina Mercouri, George Michael, Helen Mirren, Esai Morales, Mike Myers, Bebe Neuwirth, Kim Novak, Bernadette Peters, Ginger Rogers, Winona Ryder, Patrick Swayze, Marlo Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Christopher Walken, Mae West, and Betty White.
Artists: Mary Casatt, Judy Chicago, Leonardo DaVinci, Spike Jonze, Rene Magritte, Georgia O’Keeffe, Man Ray, and Norman Perceval Rockwell
Musicians: Louis Armstrong, Ludwig von Beethoven, Maria Callas, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Daryl Hall, Lionel Hampton, Georg Friedrich Handel, Debbie Harry, Elton John, Patty Loveless, Christine McVie, Freddy Mercury, Stevie Nicks, Anita O’Day, Minnie Pearl, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Luther Vandross, Yanni, and Dwight Yoakam.
Other Performers: Bob Barker, Margaret Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, Margot Fonteyn, Martha Graham (choreographer), Alexander Godunov, Jay Leno, Wink Martindale, Anna Pavlova (dancer), Jessye Norman (opera singer), Rudolf Nureyev (dancer), John Ringling (founder of Ringling Bros. Circus), and Wanda Sykes.
Journalists & Authors: Scott Adams (cartoonist), Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Nathaniel Branden , Anne Bronte, Don DeLillo, Helen Gurley Brown, Leo Buscaglia, Simone De Beauvoir, Julia Child, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Kurt Godel, Terry Gross, Nicole Hollander (cartoonist), Samuel Johnson, Helen Keller, Dean Koontz, Jerzy Kosinski, Philip Larkin, Bill Maher, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mitchell, Eugene O’Neal (playwright), Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Parker, Ann Patchett, Beatrix Potter, Edgar Allen Poe, Ayn Rand, Diane Sawyer (TV news anchor), Maurice Sendak, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton, Walt Whitman, August Wilson, Virginia Woolf, and Emile Zola.
Athletes: Althea Gibson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander
Politicians & Government Figures: Susan B. Anthony, Francis Bacon, Helen Clark (New Zealand Prime Minister), Gray Davis (previous governor of CA), Benjamin Disraeli, Elizabeth Dole, Martha Griffiths (MI lieutenant governor), Warren Harding (29th U.S. President), Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (court justice), Angela Merkel, Condoleeza Rice, and David Souter (supreme court justice).
Royalty: Elizabeth I (19th c. Queen of England), King Louis XVI (France), and Queen Liliuokalani (Hawaii).
Other Well-known Solo Agers: Coco Chanel, Oprah Winfrey, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (environmentalist), Francis Drake (explorer), Amelia Earhart (aviator), Dian Fossey (anthropologist), Emma Goldman (activist, feminist), Susan Helms (astronaut), Immanuel Kant (philosopher), Ralph Nader (activist), Sir Isaac Newton, (scientist), Friedrich Nietzsche (philosopher), Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks, Linus Pauling (Nobel prize winner), Plato (philosopher), Rachel Ray (celebrity chef), Judith Resnick (astronaut), Sally Ride (astronaut), Dr. Lee Salk (child psychologist), Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher), Gloria Steinem, Nicola Tesla, Amerigo Vespucci (navigator), Orville Wright (aviator), and Bill Wilson (founder of Alcoholics Anonymous).
To create this list, I chose those whom I thought would be known to most readers. There are many, many more names catalogued by childfreebychoice.com. Of course, those names from the history books may well have been infertile and not have been child-free by choice. Likewise, some of those who are child-free today may also not be that way by choice. However, today many people, both men and women, are child-free by choice, which means there is a far greater percentage of them in the general population in the U.S., and regardless of how they came to that state, being child-free can mean aging alone.
Because almost one in five baby boomers is child-free (assuming male childlessness would produce a comparable statistic), they make up a great percentage of the solo agers in this country. Analyzing the list above, it seems apparent that quite a large number of people in the arts do not have children. Most artists’ lives are devoted to the study and practice in their chosen field and that may be why we see so many names in those categories. The careers or writers, actors, sculptors, scientists, etc. often leave little time for other interests or pursuits, even family. Today, that kind of dedication to career can be seen far beyond the arts, however, and in our modern world in the U.S. both men and women are much freer to choose than in previous generations.
The childless among us are certainly not the only solo agers; the number of single adults in the world today is unprecedented and continues to rise as well. All of these statistics should be a wake-up call for the senior housing industry and everyone involved in the lives of older adults. The phenomenon of aging alone is not going away any time soon.