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Cover Story 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," she said.


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 bring about.


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.


Moreover, official 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.


But 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 record numbers.  


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 partners.


Unmarried partners 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 by state.


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 marriages.


Cohabitation is replacing Dating'


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 twenty-and thirtysomethings.


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."


Cohabitation research 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."




It 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.


You 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.


Cohabiting Seniors:

Reasons Older Couples are Saying No to Marriage


The 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.


It is expected that this percentage rate will continue to rise. So why are they cohabiting? For many senior citizens, marriage simply isn't financially practical.


Here are some of the reasons older couples are choosing living together rather than marriage.


Tax disincentives.


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.


Health insurance.

Social Security benefits.

The 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


Asset protection.




Personal Reasons 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.

As 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.


In 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, legitimate baby!”


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 worldwide.


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.


Sources:  Robin Fields

September 2nd, 2005

The Olympian

Olympia, Washington




Cohabitation--a choice beyond marriage for lonely elderly

China Daily

( 2003-08-26 11:03)






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