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Older Adults Living Together Instead of Marrying

Monday, September 17, 2012

 

If you like then you don't need to necessarily put a ring on it... if you're over 50, according to new research.

What will the kids say? More and more adults age 50 and over are choosing to live with their significant other instead of marrying them, according to a new study from researchers at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University. During later life, the researchers say, cohabitation appears to operate as a long-term alternative to marriage, rather than a first step down the aisle. The study is in featured in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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 GoLocal contributor, says that the NCFMR study reflects his experience. "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.

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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