Love and Caregiving the Second Time Around: What Do Older Women Really Want?

Article excerpt

Sex without marriage? Companionship without sex? Do money, healthcare and grandchildren come first - a wedding ring second?

For most women ages 45 and older, a second marriage clearly is no longer the goal.

Here's the question I asked as part of an online survey at www.womans age.org and as part of my weekly column for The Orange County Register. If you are age 45-plus and married - and something happened to end that marriage (say, death, separation or divorce) - would you consider marrying again?

I was testing me Haas tJieory about marriage, which says that if you are a woman and have a job or a sense of economic independence, and if you have done any caregiving chores for a man, chances are you won't opt for a second wedding ring.

UNSURPRISING CONCLUSIONS

Of the 1,839 women, ages 42 to 86, responding to my survey only 23.3% disagree and long for that second wedding band. A whopping 39.5% don't want any man in their Uves, while 37.2% vote for a committed relationship.

Of the women surveyed, 44.2% are divorced, 30.6% are married and 19.4% are widowed. Another 5.8% have never married.

The conclusions did not surprise me. After six years of heading up WomanSage.org, a nonprofit for women ages 45-plus, the discovery that women clearly enjoy themselves and flourish in the second half of life is obvious. A sense of independence dominates the baby boomer generation, much of it traceable to the expansion of opportunities as part of the women's movement.

Still, the results upset some social scientists who believe being single and alone in later years can be unhealthy for older women, and can lead to depression, chronic illness and emotional imbalance.

THE TIES THAT BIND (OR NOT)

Are women healthier alone or mated? And what about the economy? Doesn't that keep couples together?

Well, consider the opinion of performer and writer Sandra Tsing Loh. She wrote about her own infidelity and the end of her marriage in a recent article titled "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off' (The Atlantic magazine, July/August 2009). She contends that as life expectancy has grown, die concept of lifelong marriage becomes an outdated institution.

People change, life moves on, new love calls, writes Kay S. Hymowitz in The Wall Street Journal. Then she quotes statistics proving marriage is alive and well at midlife.

What does that do to my conclusion?

Nothing, really, because Hymowitz is talking about long-term continuing relationships. My survey asked "if you were suddenly single...." not "would you divorce your current husband?"

"I don't need a man anymore," wrote a single, 56-year-old woman from Michigan. "I can go anywhere I want to go without a man on my arm. That was my mother's style. I can have a man or I can have girlfriends. Either one works."

Okay. But what about the economy?

No one talked about marrying for money. In fact, if current data are accurate, the men may be the ones looking for money in a marriage.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of women with children under age 18 work and women make up 46% of the labor pool. However, during this current recession, more women than men are keeping their jobs. New data reveal mat 82% of the 2.5 million jobs recently lost were once held by men.

Among other benefits, the increased years of steady work will add to women's Social Security benefits, economists say.

DOMINANT (AND DOMINANCE) THEMES

Two dominant themes show up in extended replies to my survey:

* Women who enjoy "widow's benefits" (Social Security and healthcare, predominantly) are reluctant to risk losing them.

* Children are listed as the predominant reason for marriage. Once they are grown and gone, many women who are suddenly divorced or widowed feel empowered to enjoy their own independence - if they have the economic ability.

Few women are worried about facing their declining years alone. …