Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Older Adults Developing a Preference for Living Apart Together

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Older Adults Developing a Preference for Living Apart Together

Article excerpt

Because of increased life expectancy, singlehood, and late-life divorce, older U.S. Americans have experienced remarkable changes in norms of partnering and family formation (Manning & Brown, 2011). New ways of "doing family" have become more prevalent, particularly in how romantic partnerships are enacted and maintained. For most older adults, marriage has been their only socially acceptable choice for long-term romantic relationships. Recently, however, there is marked growth in cohabitation among the Baby Boom cohort (Brown, Lee, & Bulanda, 2006), as well as increased interest in living apart together,or LAT (Strohm, Seltzer, Cochran, & Mays, 2009).

Research is clear that intimate and personal relationships positively benefit the psychosocial and physical health of older adults, though most of our understanding about these linkages comes from data based on long-term marriage. Despite the growing preference for nonmarital pair bonding among older individuals, only a small literature on older cohabitors exists, and virtually nothing is known about the LAT relationships of older people in the United States. To gain a comprehensiveunderstandingaboutthehealthimplications of social relationships in older adulthood more research needs to be done on nonmarital partnerships. As a logical first step in addressing this research gap, the aim of our study was to understand and explain how older adults in LAT relationships make the decision to live apart together versus marry or cohabit.

LAT is characteristically defined as a monogamous intimate partnership between unmarried individuals who live in separate homes but identify themselves as a committed couple (de Jong Gierveld, 2002; de Jong Gierveld & Peeters, 2003; Levin, 2004). The prevalence of LAT relationships in the United States is difficult to estimate because we lack good data and have difficulty operationalizing these arrangements. For men and women ages 23-70, estimates of LAT relationships from the 1996 and 1998 General Social Surveys (GSS) are 6% and 7%, respectively. Based on more recent data from California on the same age group, estimates of LAT are 13% (Strohm et al., 2009). No data exist on the prevalence of LAT among U.S. seniors, but a trend toward LAT as a preferred mode for enacting intimate relationships in later life is evident. Recent media attention to the subject (ABC News, 2006; Augustin, 2013; Joel, 2013; Krishnan, 2013; Levy, 2013; Moggach, 2013; Rosenblum, 2013) as well as evidence from U.S. scholars (Brown & Shinohara, 2013; Carr, 2004; Watson, Bell, & Stelle, 2010) and data reported from national and state government organizations (Montenegro, 2003) indicate that divorced and widowed older adults are interested in forging new intimate relationships, albeit with a preference for doing so outside the confines of marriage (Brown & Shinohara, 2013).

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS OF LAT RELATIONSHIP FORMATION

International scholars generally agree that the desire to balance intimacy and autonomy is the primary reason older adults in Europe (de Jong Gierveld & Peeters, 2003), Australia (Upton-Davis, 2012), and Canada (Funk & Kobayashi, 2014) choose to live apart together. Their motivations to do so include a strong desire to make independent decisions about their daily life (de Jong Gierveld, 2002), to maintain their own homes, to sustain boundaries around previously established relationships (Karlsson & Borell, 2005), to remain financially independent (Haskey & Lewis, 2006), and to reduce problems associated with potential dissolution (Haskey & Lewis, 2006; Kravdal, 1999). These desires for autonomy paired with seeking companionship, sexual intimacy, and the mutual exchange of instrumental and emotional support (de Jong Gierveld & Peeters, 2003) make LAT an attractive option for older adults. In general, LAT is viewed as a lifestyle choice among older persons. In contrast, younger adults seem to negotiate LAT arrangements as a result of circumstances (e. …

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