Thursday, August 14, 2008

Elders and Marriage

On the occasion of my eldest son's wedding this coming Saturday, I am wondering about the view of older folks, as a group, about marriage.

The Pew Research Center posted an article on July 1, 2007, entitled "As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact Generation Gap in Values, Behaviors" that announced and summarized the findings of a Report, entitled "As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public is Concerned About Social Impact" (07/01/07; PDF, 91 pages).

The Report's Executive Summary lists & explains its key findings, including these points:

  • Younger adults attach far less moral stigma than do their elders to out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation without marriage. They engage in these behaviors at rates unprecedented in U.S. history.
  • Adults of all ages consider unwed parenting to be a big problem for society.
  • Even though a decreasing percentage of the adult population is married, most unmarried adults say they want to marry.
  • Married adults are more satisfied with their lives than are unmarried adults.
  • Children may be perceived as less central to marriage, but they are as important as ever to their parents. As a source of adult happiness and fulfillment, children occupy a pedestal matched only by spouses and situated well above that of jobs, career, friends, hobbies and other relatives.
  • With marriage exerting less influence over how adults organize their lives and bear their children, cohabitation is filling some of the vacuum.
  • Americans by lopsided margins endorse the mom-and-dad home as the best setting in which to raise children. But by equally lopsided margins, they believe that if married parents are very unhappy with one another, divorce is the best option, both for them and for their children.
Were individual views different due to the age of survey respondents?
[T]he Pew survey finds that older adults – who came of age prior to the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s – are more conservative than younger and middle-aged adults in their views on virtually all of these matters of marriage and parenting.

Thus, some of the overall change in public opinion is the result of what scholars call "generational replacement." That is, as older generations die off and are replaced by younger generations, public opinion shifts to reflect the attitudes of the age cohorts that now make up the bulk of the adult population.

Even among the younger generations (ages 18 to 64), however, our survey finds substantial differences in attitudes that fall along the fault lines of religion and ideology rather than age.* * *

For those senior citizens contemplating a second (or more) marriage, consider the advice given by Ashlea Ebeling in her extensive article "The Second Match" (11/12/07), posted by Forbes magazine.

She asks, "Should you remarry or just shack up?" Then she answers, "Consult your financial adviser and lawyer, as well as your conscience."

In 2006, 1.8 million Americans aged 50 and above lived in heterosexual "unmarried-partner households," a 50% increase from 2000, figures Bowling Green State University demographer Susan Brown.

Much of that growth is due to the baby boomers passing 50. But it also reflects the problems of blending finances later in life. Ninety percent of older heterosexual live-ins are widowed, separated or divorced. * * *
She suggests considering these aspects of the decision, which are explored in detail:

  • Estate Planning

  • Alimony and Palimony

  • Social Security

  • Survivors' Annuities

  • College Financial Aid

  • Nursing Home Costs
  • Income Taxes
  • Real Estate

In a shorter article posted by ElderCare Answers, entitled "Is It Better to Remarry or Just Live Together?", similar points are raised, including:
  • Estate Planning

  • Long-Term Care

  • The Family Home

  • Social Security

  • Alimony

  • Survivor's Annuities

  • College Financial Aid
When couples are young, such factors are far from mind, and love alone might be the singular motivation. But for some older Americans contemplating remarriage, the question might be asked: "What's love got to do with it?"

In answering that question, I suggest that you first consult your conscience, and then "[c]onsult your financial adviser and lawyer."

Consider, also, the results of the survey (noted in the graph above) concerning "what makes a marriage work?"