In her small bungalow in Blue Island, Ill., she and her cat, Jesse, spent a quiet Thanksgiving day together.

Ms. Ingersoll didn't have any children. She has lived longer than her parents, three partners, her two closest friends and eight cats.

Three years after her sister's death, Ms. Ingersoll joined the ranks of older Americans who didn't have a partner or family member. Covid-19 has mostly stopped her get-togethers with her friends. She said that her social life consists of doctors and store clerks.

Like many older adults, Ms. Ingersoll has a variety of health problems that make walking difficult. She said that she could see a time when that wouldn't be true. I don't know what I'll do about it.

According to a study published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 6.6 percent of American adults over the age of 55 have no living spouse or children.

A small percentage of people fit a narrower definition of being without a spouse or partner, children or siblings. Women over 75 make up 3 percent.

There are close to a million Americans without a spouse or partner, children or siblings in the year 2019.

Rachel Margolis is a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario and co-author of the study.

Increased kinlessness is a result of demographic factors. More baby boomers have remained childless than their parents. The rise of gray divorce, after age 50, means fewer married seniors, and longer life spans, which can make for more years without surviving family.

ImageTwo stacks of books sit atop a table in front of folding screens showing nature scenes.
Books stacked in Ms. Ingersoll’s home. She has outlived her parents, three partners, her two closest friends, five dogs and eight cats. Credit...Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

Dr. Deborah Carr is a sociologist at Boston University.

Older people are less likely to receive care from their partners than younger people. People who don't live with their partners are more likely to be in a relationship.

Seniors who are black, female and have less wealth have higher rates of kinlessness.

The growing number of kinless seniors who call themselves "elder orphans" or "solo agers" worry researchers and advocates because they face many disadvantages.

A study of middle-aged and older adults in Canada found that those without partners or children had lower levels of mental and physical health and were more lonely. They were less likely to take part in activities like sports, cultural or religious groups.

Americans who don't have a lot of money die earlier. A decade after the initial interviews, more than 80 percent of seniors with partners and children had survived, compared with only 60 percent of those without either, according to a new study.

According to researchers at Mount Sinai in New York, people without partners and children are more likely to die in nursing homes if they don't have a partner or child.

If you go it alone or with weak social ties, getting old is even harder.

Joan Delfattore is a retired English professor at the University of Delaware. She said that she didn't see herself as a wife and mother as a child.

She said that she built a single life.

Joan DelFattore, a retired English teacher, objects to the perception that older people without immediate family are somehow needy. Credit...Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Dr. DelFattore teaches a graduate course every other fall because she is in good health. She is very close to her cousins in New Jersey and stays in close contact with a group of friends. She is involved in many local organizations.

She doesn't like the cultural perception that old people without family have to be needy.

Sociologist call that strategy "substitution", which is turning to friends and neighbors for the connections and sustenance that families traditionally have provided

Celeste Seeman, who is divorced and childless, has befriended her neighbors in her apartment building. Ms. Seeman did her laundry, walked the neighbor's chihuahuas, and called her almost daily for weeks after one had surgery.

Ms. Seeman hoped that what happened came around. After caring for her parents until their deaths, she has outlived her family and there's no one else to help her.

She admitted that she was frightened and said that you can't dwell on things. Maybe it won't happen.

A study of sole family survivors, the last members of the families they grew up in, found that they were also disproportionately likely to lack spouses or partners and children.

As people get older, having family is not a guarantee of help. They can be unwilling or unable to serve as caregivers due to a variety of reasons.

Susan Brown is a sociologist at Bowling Green State University and an author of the study of sole family survivors.

Ms. Ingersoll with her companion, Jesse.Credit...Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

It's not possible to rely on substitute. More than two-thirds of older Americans will eventually need help with the activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and using the toilet, at some point.

They are not going to help you in the shower if they help with meals or prescriptions.

Dr. DelFattore has bought long-term care insurance in the past so that she can afford to live in an assisted living facility. Most Americans won't be able to pay for care out-of-pocket because they don't have enough money to qualify for Medicaid.

olicies lag behind reality The belief in the past was that older adults would marry and have children. It doesn't anymore.

Experts suggest a variety of smaller solutions to support kinless seniors.

The growth of shared housing and co-housing could be aided by public and philanthropic support. The village movement helps seniors stay in their homes.

Friends and neighbors could be included in revised family- leave policies.

There isn't much time to waste as governments, community organizations and health care systems address the issue. Projections show that kinlessness will go up as the population ages.

Younger people are less likely to marry and have children as family sizes decrease. How will health decline affect them? We don't know what to say. People are not paying attention.