More Older Couples Living Together Without Being Married

by on April 25, 2012 · 11 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, Life Events, Popular

By Allison Linn / msnbc / April 25, 2012

Shacking up. It’s not just for the kids anymore.

The number of people over age 50 who are living together romantically has more than doubled in a decade, from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010, according to an analysis of government data done by Bowling Green State University.

The 50-plus group represents nearly one-third of the approximately 7.5 million people of all ages who were living together in 2010, the researchers found.

But while young people tend to be testing the waters for marriage, experts say older people aren’t necessarily living together as a step toward tying the knot. They’re doing it for the money.

“(They want to) enjoy many of the benefits of marriage without the burdens,” said Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who led the research.

Older couples may want to protect their individual nest eggs so they can pass the inheritance down to their kids. They also may not want to jeopardize a pension, Social Security payment or other benefit they are receiving because they are divorced or widowed. And they may not want to be financially responsible for the other person’s health care bills.

Some also may have a “been there, done that” mentality about marriage, Brown said. Her research found that 71 percent of older couples living together were divorced, and another 18 percent were widowed. On the other hand, she found, older people who end up remarrying are disproportionately widowed. (Brown has done other research looking at the surging divorce rate among older Americans.)

Tom Blake was 53 when his third marriage ended, and after the divorce was finalized he knew he wanted to start dating again. But he didn’t want to get married for a fourth time.

“I wasn’t looking for marriage, but I definitely wanted a relationship that was comfortable, enjoyable and non-confrontational,” he remembers.

Blake, who owns a deli in Dana Point, Calif., found that dating after age 50 was much harder than he had expected. His experiences eventually became fodder for a column and website that he’s been writing for almost 18 years.

Now 72, he’s been living with a woman for 11 years. They split their expenses evenly but keep their finances separate, an arrangement that he says has served them very well.

“What I learned for my own self was that I did not need to be married to be happy,” he said.

Some people prefer to keep their financial lives even more separate. Blake said he also hears from a lot of older people who are in long-term, committed relationships but don’t live together. He said some do that to keep the peace with their kids or grandkids who don’t like the idea of a live-in relationship.

Brown, the sociology professor, said the “living apart together relationship” is one she also knows exists but has had trouble quantifying.

“They’re very committed to each other (but they) don’t want to give up the autonomy that they have,” she said.

Although economics play a major role in these late-in-life relationship decisions, Brown said there are also noneconomic reasons older couples aren’t getting hitched.

Brown said some older women want a live-in relationship, but there’s something about actually getting married that seems stifling.

“They’ve taken care of one husband and raised one family, and they don’t want to do that again,” Brown said. “And they feel that if they get married that’s the underlying expectation.”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar JMW April 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I know of a couple who have been unbreakably together for more than 25 years, but only married in 2010. They’ve separated and come back together, then fought and separated for good and come back together again after that. One thing about not being married is that either one can end a relationship at any time. That makes being together about wanting to be together, not having to.


avatar Frank Gormlie April 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Ahhhh, how cute.


avatar OB Joe April 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I also know a couple that’s been together nearly 5 years and haven’t gotten married. They’ve both been married at least a couple times each and each have debts now that they wouldn’t wish on their “certified” partners.


avatar bodysurferbob April 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm

yeah, well i also know couples who have been married for decades and you can tell, they’re together by choice. did you know that crabs mate for life?


avatar bodysurferbob April 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm

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avatar bodysurferbob April 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm

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avatar editordude April 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm

We brought forth the power of Zeus who was able to look through our unused avatars, and there it was, right there next to our missing identities.


avatar editordude April 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm

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avatar Patty Jones April 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm

hey bob, there was a typo in your email addy. all fixed.


avatar Ernie McCray April 25, 2012 at 7:59 pm

My soul mate, Nancy, and I had both been married two times when we got together. Having been there and done that, we hadn’t planned on marrying but we both took off from City Schools for 3 years when our twin girls were born. During that time we had to pay for our insurance to keep it. We looked at two insurance bills and we both must have said at the same time: “Will you marry me? Right now?” No regrets but I’m sure we would have had a long life together had we not gotten married.


avatar Anna Daniels April 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Ernie- I live with My Beloved because I love him and I married him for his insurance. Thirty years ago we were in our early 30’s. Rich was working at UCSD with health insurance, and I was doing temp work, which meant no health care benefit for me. We had lived together for seven years because neither of us believed that people should be forced to make a public obligation of private sentiment. UCSD had no domestic partner coverage at the time. So marry we did and we did it because of the legal benefits. If legal benefits were defined differently, we too would probably now be an older unmarried couple, with forty years of co-habitation.


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