Kinship Ties and Solitary Living among Unmarried Elderly Women: Evidence from Chile and Mexico

De Vos, Susan
Working paper no. 1998-20


This paper uses census data from Chile and Mexico to describe the coresidential kinship ties of unmarried elderly (60+ years of age) women and to examine the importance of having children and socioeconomic characteristics on their likelihood of living alone. The countries were similar in that they were on a threshold between more traditional and modern age distributions, most (~85%) unmarried elderly women lived with others, daughters as well as sons were expected to assist elderly parents, and almost a fifth of those women had no surviving children. Thus unmarried elderly women in either country did not necessarily live alone if they were childless (in fact most did not), nor did they necessarily live with others if they had surviving children.

One difference between countries was that a much larger proportion of unmarried elderly women in Chile compared with in Mexico headed their own households, and a lower proportion of those households were simple or nuclear. Also, the number of surviving children was negatively related to the likelihood of living alone in Chile but not in Mexico. Oppositely, education was not important in Chile but was in Mexico, better educated women being slightly more likely to live alone there. Perhaps as important, rural unmarried elderly women were slightly less likely to live alone in Chile but were slightly more likely to live alone in Mexico. Finally, a life course of never marriage and having no children, perhaps in order to care for aging parents, seems to have been more common in Mexico than in Chile.

Can valuable kinship ties be maintained while traditional relations of dominance or subservience be altered?