||January 26, 2006
by lyle e davis
by lyle e davis
More and more we are
seeing the impact of death and divorce on middle aged and older individuals who
subsequently find another partner with whom they would like to share their
life. And, more and more we are seeing these life partners deciding to not get
married but to simply live together.
The U.S. Census Bureau
says the number of unmarried couples living together increased 72% between 1990
and 2000. Age-specific data will come later, but a host of other Census surveys
suggests that seniors, though constituting only a drop in the pool of
cohabitants, may have met or outpaced that growth rate.
According to the Census
Bureau's annual Current Population Survey, households made up of opposite-sex
senior couples rose 46 percent between 1996 and 2000, a bigger jump than that of
their middle-aged counterparts.
That’s a rather dramatic
increase. While this group may be the most low-profile participants in the 2000
Census it also clearly outlines one of the most high-profile trends. For
example, a small but growing number of Americans over age 65 now live as
cohabiting couples, almost twice as many as a decade ago, census surveys show.
For older people, living
together holds both emotional and financial attractions but requires shedding
moral inhibitions ingrained in youth and, at times, dealing with the
squeamishness of children and longtime friends.
Demographers expect the
portion of senior couples who cohabit to grow dramatically in the 2010 and 2020
Censuses as baby boomers who rebelled in their 20s bring their attitudes into
old age. For the swing generation of 60-and-overs captured in this Census,
however, living together remains a liberating, if conflict-laced, option.
Though couples' reasons
for living together can be as idiosyncratic as relationships themselves,
researchers link the shift to other social changes.
Higher divorce rates and
longer life expectancies, especially for women, mean the population of single
seniors is growing rapidly, sociologists said. For younger couples, marriage
often is linked to the prospect of parenthood; older couples typically are
beyond this stage in life. Though eager for love and companionship, they may be
skittish about formal ties.
Researchers say older
women, too, can be reluctant to re-up for marriage if they associate it with
traditional gender roles played out in earlier relationships.
As potent as the
emotional issues can be, pragmatism, not romance, often governs whether those
older than 60 live together instead of getting married. Cohabitation, like
marriage, allows older couples to share expenses, a crucial concern to those
living on fixed incomes as life spans extend. Not marrying, however, means
couples do not take on the financial obligations of each other's long-term
medical care or intermingle their retirement benefits.
Such practicalities have
kept one woman we know from marrying her partner of 17 years because she would
lose her benefits and insurance from her second marriage, which ended long ago
with her husband's death. "We just can't afford to give up my medical coverage,"
While cohabiting seniors
can -- and often do -- expressly provide for each other in their wills,
unmarried partners do not have the same claims as spouses in many states. Many
couples say they have left late-in-life relationships unofficial to avert
conflict between the surviving partner and relatives. "We didn't want to tie up
our estates," said one senior. Another said . . . “I didn’t want to create a
problem with her kids worrying about me inheriting part of their estate . . .
and I didn’t want my kids worrying about her inheriting part of my estate and
short changing them.”
This living together
without benefit of marriage is not just an American phenomenon. It is world
wide. Even our friends in China are following this trend.
More elderly people in
Beijing have chosen to live together without getting married. Why would they
choose cohabitation rather than marriage?
Many seniors choosing
cohabitation say they want to get rid of the troubles a late marriage might
Yi Mi, vice-president of
the local (Beijing) elderly people's federation explains.
"People nowadays are
thinking more of their lifestyles, the elderly are no exception. To some of
them, walking directly into marriage can lead to problems such as property
disputes. Some children dislike a re-arrangement of the heritage due to another
marriage by a parent. Elderly people themselves also decline to see family
conflicts due to a late marriage."
The official says many
cohabiting seniors are worried about the short amount of time they will have
with their new "late in life" partner. This new relationship is also commonly
seen as negative and disruptive by the couples' previous children and creates
jealousy and arguments within the family.
sources say the divorce rate is high among remarried elderly couples, which, in
many cases, is caused by disputes over property.
Compared with youngsters'
living together, the society has shown a tolerant attitude towards the elderly
choosing to live together.
some legal experts disagree. They argue elderly people can only have their
property rights protected with a lawful marriage. Shared property by cohabiting
senior couples is not legally protected.
Another problem: there are heartbroken seniors whose partners pass away. They
are then not recognized by their partner's children even though they have taken
good care of their new lover later in life.
Elsewhere in the world, recognizing the demonstrated perils of legal marriage at
a young age, people are postponing marriage, or (as has been the case in
Scandinavia for decades) forgoing it altogether in favor of cohabitation in
Millions of senior citizens choose not to marry legally for a host of valid
financial, tax, and emotional reasons.
There are some downsides
to living together rather than marrying, however.
Domestic benefits are
becoming more common, but are far from universal. In 2004, only 34% of
employers offered some type of domestic partner benefits to opposite-sex
generally aren't covered by inheritance tax laws. In most states, when an
individual dies and the partner is listed as the estate's primary beneficiary,
the assets are hit by an inheritance tax because the partner isn't the legal
spouse. The maximum tax, amount subject to the tax and possible exemptions vary
But there's one major
benefit to remaining unmarried: You don't have to assume your partner's debt,
including credit cards issued by major banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo
and Bank of America, and cards issued by major oil companies such as Exxon Mobil
or Chevron. That's not the way it works for married couples--when you tie the
knot, you've married the other person's debt.
No matter how devoted you
are to your partner, remember this basic point: If you're not careful, risk and
liability will overwhelm love.
Many cohabitors are more
like married couples than different from them -- they eat dinner together every
night, enjoy the company of their pets, in many cases parent children together,
pay the bills, and put out the recycling. Given how often people add "Mrs." to
unmarried women's names and refer to their partners as "your husband" or "your
wife," apparently most people can't tell those relationships apart from
Men and women who moved
in together used to raise eyebrows. Living together out of wedlock, once
considered "shacking up" or "living in sin," has lost its stigma as cohabitation
has become mainstream.
What a difference a few
decades makes. More than two-thirds of married couples in the USA now say they
lived together before marriage. And the number of unmarried, opposite-sex
households overall is rising dramatically — even in seven states where laws
against intimate relations between unmarried partners are still on the books.
USA TODAY's Sharon Jayson
examined how the rapid growth of cohabitation is reshaping the landscape of
family and social life in the USA.
Testing the marital
waters by living together is a common practice among today's marriage-wary
The number of unmarried
couples living together increased tenfold from 1960 to 2000, the U.S. Census
says; about 10 million people are living with a partner of the opposite sex.
That's about 8% of U.S. coupled households. Data show that most unmarried
partners who live together are 25 to 34.
"In some sense,
cohabitation is replacing dating," says Pamela Smock, an associate professor of
sociology at the University of Michigan. She's among researchers who are
bringing attention to a living arrangement that is almost a foregone conclusion
for many singles.
What's more evident, she
suggests, is a probable increase in "serial cohabitation," or living with one
partner for a time, then another. High housing costs and tight budgets often
lead young couples to cohabit because it "makes sense to young people if they're
serious about each other at all."
The logic is fairly easy
to understand. "We were paying rent in two places and living in one," one says.
"It seemed financially reasonable, and we're pretty compatible."
published in the journal Population Studies in 2000 found that within five years
of a live-in relationship, about half of couples married, about 40% split up and
the rest continued to live together.
How many times have you
seen the phenomenon or heard the the comment . . . “they had a great
relationship. Then they got married. In no time at all that great relationship
deteriorated into a divorce. And the only difference was that little piece of
paper . . . the marriage license.”
As can be seen above, the
statistics tend to confirm this observation.
"People want what marriage signifies: that sense of 'us with a future,'
" Stanley says. "But because of the high rates of divorce for the past few
decades and many other circumstances, including decreased rates of marriage,
there is really a crisis in confidence about the institution of marriage."
is important to remember that a step-family, however good it might be, can never
be the same as the original family. For example, one of the parents will not be
the natural parent of one or more of the children. Step-families have more
complicated sets of relationships to manage. There are likely to be
grandparents, uncles, cousins and siblings and a parent living outside the
family with no links with other members of the step-family.
will need to face a number of practical issues when you re-marry or enter into
another relationship, and form a step-family. For example,
Whether the previous relationship ended through death, separation or divorce,
all members need to adjust to your new relationship.
Reasons Older Couples
are Saying No to Marriage
U.S. Census Bureau has reported that from 1990 to 1999, the percentage of
unmarried couples 65 and older rose significantly. These are couples who at one
time believed in marriage. These are couples who are facing the disapproval of
their children and religious faith.
is expected that this percentage rate will continue to rise. So why are they
cohabiting? For many senior citizens, marriage simply isn't financially
Here are some of the reasons older couples are choosing living together rather
Loss of military and pension benefits.
Fear of incurring liability for partner's medical expenses.
Credit rating protection.
Separation of current debt.
Ability to share expenses.
Social Security benefits.
Social Security issue, however, appears to have some options:
"In general, you cannot receive survivors benefits if you remarry before the age
of 60 unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment.
If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on
your former spouse's record. When you reach age 62 or older, you may get
retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher."
Source: Social Security Administration
Seniors are Cohabiting
Anti-marriage attitude from previous unhappy marital experience.
Lack of concern about what others think.
Love and friendship.
Children's inheritance concerns.
a practical matter, more and more people, young and old, say living together is
a requirement before saying "I do."
"I don't know how people got married before living together first,"
they say. "This is crucial to see how you get along."
Meanwhile, societal pressures to marry before having children have decreased,
said Thomas Coleman, executive director for the Glendale, Calif. based Unmarried
America, which also promotes equality for unmarried people. Among the group's
concerns are tax policies which it contends are stacked against single people.
2003, nearly 35% of all births were to unmarried women, according to the
National Center for Health Statistics. That's up from 11% in 1970, though the
rate of increase has slowed since 1995, when 32% of births were out-of-wedlock.
Births to unmarried teens have declined since the mid-1990s.
The stigma of having a
child born out of wedlock is also diminishing. One local observer perhaps
summed it up best by saying . . . “I never could understand how or why they
would refer to a child born out of wedlock as ‘illegitimate.’ Hell, that was a
legitimate baby. It was breathing, crying, a living human being. A real,
And so it seems that
cohabitation is on the increase, marriage is on the decrease . . . according to
both statistics and observations of the changing mores of our social order
Where will it lead? If
one follows trends, it would appear to be continuing on full-steam, with no
signs of slowing down.
We’ll check back with you
again in ten years.
September 2nd, 2005
beyond marriage for lonely elderly
( 2003-08-26 11:03)