Older Adults Living Together Instead of Marrying
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Using data from the 1998-2006 Health and Retirement Study and the 2000 and 2010 Current Population Survey, the study’s authors found that cohabitation among adults over age 50 more than doubled from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010.
This trend is now accelerating as the baby boomers – the first generation to cohabit in large numbers – move into the older adult population, suggesting that cohabitation will be increasingly common among older Americans. “Similar to their younger counterparts, older Americans are embracing cohabitation in record numbers,” according to Dr. Susan Brown, lead author of the study and co-director of the NCFMR.
A growing openness
Archie Roberts, Providence-based therapist and GoLocalProv contributor, says that the NCFMR study reflects his experience here in Rhode Island. "I've seen a growing openness to diversity as far as the many ways people choose to live with one another--ranging from marriage to cohabitation and beyond," he said. "There are more and more socially acceptable alternatives to marriage these days."
Brown and colleagues assert that cohabitation among older adults is important because it plays a unique role in the lives of older Americans. Living together provides many of the benefits of marriage such as partnership, without the potential costs, like the mingling of financial assets. “Older adults desire an intimate partnership, but without the legal constraints marriage entails,” Brown said.
Roberts sees further influence, for local adults, in the local culture. "Because of its universities and colleges, Providence attracts a lot of younger people," he said, "and this is significant from a psychological angle, too. The younger generation has grown up in a culture that's become more accepting of what might have traditionally been thought of as 'alternative' lifestyles. And since many boomers like to think of their generation as the original progressives, they seem open to following the lead of the young here."
Roberts points out that this ideological flow goes both ways. "The boomers initiated social changes a half century ago that 'trickled down' to the following generations," he said. "Those younger generations took the original changes and ran with them, breaking down more barriers and creating new social norms. And now this NCFMR study suggests that the ever-increasing acceptance of diversity among younger people might be circling around--'trickling up'--in a sense, back to the boomers."
Motivations for change
Demographically, researchers found that women are especially reluctant to marry in later life, citing caregiving strains that marriage may involve as well as perceived loss of freedom. Most older cohabiters are divorced, followed by widowed, and then never married, whereas older widowers were more likely to remarry.
Perhaps the more remarkable feature of cohabitation among older adults, in stark contrast to their younger counterparts, is the durability of the unions. Of those who were living together when the study began, the average duration of their unions at that point was more than eight years. Over the ensuing eight years covered by the study, only 18 percent of these unions ended in separation and only 12 percent ended in marriage. The rest lasted until either the death of one partner or the end of the study. “The retreat from marriage is evident among older adults, who increasingly favor cohabitation over remarriage,” said Brown.
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