As the population of western Europe ages, more older people tend to live alone. As women generally live longer, surviving alone in old age will be the rule. In Europe’s southern countries, the percentage of older people living alone is much lower than in northern countries. However, in the southern countries there are clear differences between urban and rural regions; in the latter, family solidarity is stronger but also threatened by urbanization. According to the Eurobarometer Survey, most older people generally remain well integrated with their families and neighbors (Walker). Older people in need are provided with high levels of family care, especially from daughters and spouses. Older Europeans also care for the young: many grandparents care for their grandchildren and assist their own children. However, there is evidence that family ties will erode or become less clearly defined in the future, particularly since a greater number of older adults are childless.
Although living alone is not necessarily synonymous with social isolation, there is a greater vulnerability to problem situations. Many countries have developed initiatives designed to prevent social isolation, such as open day centers for older adults. In most western European countries, older adults remain active and maintain social contact with others through involvement in voluntary organizations.
Generally, there is a striking difference between high levels of social integration of the aged within informal relations (family, neighbors), on the one hand, and a strong social exclusion from the economic system, on the other. The economic realm of older Europeans appears to be largely limited to the consumer sector, with few opportunities for those who want or need to find employment.