The Older We Get, the Less We're Getting Remarried; COHABITATION ACTS AS ALTERNATIVE as Baby Boomers Divorce, Many Choose to Remain Unwed but Live with a Committed Partner

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

Forget what you thought you knew about marriage, divorce and shacking up.

They're not just for young people anymore.

Divorce rates have slowly declined since a peak in the 1980s, but there is evidence that divorce rates are actually rising among baby boomers and older people, said Adam Shapiro, a Jacksonville researcher who is making the subject of elder divorce a focus for study.

The baby boomer generation was the first to start divorcing at high rates, and it hasn't finished just yet. The number of people over 50 who say they have been divorced is growing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And they are increasingly cohabiting with an unmarried partner.

Jacksonville resident Doug Phillips, 52, is one of them. Divorced after 27 years of marriage, he is now in another committed relationship. But he has chosen not to marry his girlfriend, with whom he lives.

Don't get him wrong: Phillips, who describes himself as a social conservative, believes in the basic family unit. But the bitterness, the financial impact and the alimony laws in the state convinced him he'd never remarry. And, socially, he's not the only person he knows in the same situation.

"For the most part," he said, "it's accepted."

The trend might be fodder for legal, social and moral debates. But sociologists and economists have a different interest in the phenomenon.

AN AGING POPULATION

With the population set to age considerably over the next few decades, Shapiro and other researchers want to know how higher rates of divorce among the elderly will affect caregiving and the economy as the first divorce generation ages.

"If you look at elder care, the vast majority is provided by family members, especially children," Shapiro said. With questions already looming about the solvency of Medicare and Medicaid, he said, "what would the pressure be on formal programs if relationships between families and children degrade?"

Shapiro, chairman of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of North Florida, said most divorce and marriage research has focused on the impact on adults and their young children. Little is still known about how divorce among older people affects their adult children, he said.

Jacksonville lawyer Mike Jorgensen, chairman of the elder law section of the Jacksonville Bar Association, said his experience in guiding families has led him to believe divorce may be even more difficult for the adult children. …