New data suggests that Massachusetts is the most expensive state for older people living alone, meaning they’re more likely to face economic insecurity than older singles in any other state. Jan Mutchler, director of the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston and creator of the Elder Index, joined GBH’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath to break down the results of the study. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: First, can you tell us a bit more about the Elder Index — what it is, what it measures and how it’s calculated?

Jan Mutchler: Of course. The Elder Index is a measurement of how much it takes for older singles and couples to live independently in their own homes. We generate a bare-bones budget. It’s a very stripped-down budget, only covers housing, food, travel — and not the fun kind of travel, just getting around to the doctors and grocery store and travel expenses — medical expenses, and a small additional amount for added things like home goods and things like that. So we calculate this bare-bones lifestyle county by county for the entire United States. And we’ve been doing this here at UMass Boston Gerontology for about 12 years.

Rath: As we mentioned, Massachusetts ranks first in the most expensive states for older people living alone, even ahead of New York and California. Do we have a sense of why? And also could you put that in perspective for us, give us a sense of scale?

Mutchler: A lot of times, in these conversations, it’s helpful to think about the values for older renters in good health because many people do rent. It’s also a common transition as people get older for them to move out of owned homes and into a renter situation.

So looking at those numbers, the value of the Elder Index for Massachusetts singles is just over $37,000 a year. That compares to the average U.S. value of about $29,000 a year. So you’re looking at $8,000 a year more being required for older singles to stay in their homes in Massachusetts. As you said, that is higher than Hawaii, New York and California — it’s the highest in the country.

Rath: To make an obvious point, that’s a huge deal if you’re living on a fixed income. Tell us a bit more about this slice of the older population we’re talking about: people who are living alone. Do the demographics of this group, say the measures of race or gender, do they track with the general population? Or are they more predominantly one thing or another?

Mutchler: When you’re looking at the older population living alone, you are disproportionately looking at white women. That’s not to say that they’re all white women by any means — but essentially, women do live longer than men, so the older we’re looking in the age range, the more women we’re seeing relative to men. White people also have higher longevity, longer life on average, than many other race and ethnic groups. They do live longer than African American elders, for instance.

However, a lot of the reasons we see a disproportionate share of white people living alone relative to other groups is that other groups — the Latinx, Black and Asian populations — are more likely to be living with their children. Many of them do live alone, but a larger share lives with other people than is the case in the white population.

Rath: Do we have a sense that this group, the older people who are living alone, is growing as we have an aging population?

Mutchler: Yes. Over many, many decades, we can track the growth in the percentage of older people living alone. A lot of that is a function of outliving spouses. It’s also a function of many people not forming marital relationships at all. It’s a function of a sort of cultural norm where independence is highly valued in many groups; a lot of people feel that they should be living alone, that that’s expected, and that’s a desired outcome for them.

But that does create these financial problems that we’re documenting with the Elder Index. It’s expensive to live all by oneself and cover all of your expenses, and the older you get, the higher those expenses may be. You can experience an increase in the health care expenses as you get older, and you may require more medications, more doctor’s visits and that kind of thing.

Again, our report focuses largely on people who are renters. Especially in Massachusetts, but all the way across the country, the cost of renting has just spiraled and has hit older people very hard — as anyone who’s renting. But it has had a huge impact on older people.

Rath: What you just said makes this next question even harder, and that’s: What can be done about this? I mean, this ties into things like housing prices, which are hard to deal with, and we’re dealing with it in a lot of ways across the board. Are there any kinds of interventions, policies that can help alleviate these burdens for older people living alone?

Mutchler: There are things that that we can do, as a society and as a state, and things that families and individuals can do. The challenge to some extent is that what we're talking about is: a lot of the people who have incomes falling below the Elder Index are people who used to be middle class. They used to be okay, but with time, as they age and have lost a spouse ... and their income really has shrunk, and they’re no longer able to really cover this bare-bones budget that we calculate through the Elder Index.

Some of those people will have incomes so low that they may be eligible for things like SNAP benefits, subsidies for health insurance, subsidized housing, things of that nature. Many of them will not have incomes that are low enough. They’ll be too low to really support an adequate lifestyle, but they won’t be low enough for some of the big programs that we’re aware of. They might be eligible for other programs, like fuel assistance and other sorts of supports.

Everybody — whether their income is very low, or they’re just struggling in that middle place below the Elder Index but above the poverty line — can find out about programs that they might be eligible for through their senior centers. Every community in Massachusetts has a council on aging, and they can refer you to somebody who would give you information about what you might be eligible for if you’re struggling.