Marriage research center studies receive national attention


BOWLING GREEN, O.—Pick up a recent Chicago Tribune, USA Today or New York Times and you’re likely to see the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) cited in an article. Current research from the center that takes a closer look at aging has been making national news since it was released.

In April, the center revealed a bleak future for the largest generation in history, the baby boomers, as they cross into old age. NBC Nightly News took a closer look at baby boomers and divorce, and featured an interview with Dr. Susan Brown, a professor of sociology and co-director of the NCFMR. The research was also prominently featured in a recent article for the Reuters wire service, which also includes an interview with Brown.

Using data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses and the 2009 round of the American Community Survey, Brown and Dr. I-Fen Lin, an associate professor of sociology, found one-third of adults aged 45-63 are unmarried. This represents a more than 50 percent increase since 1980, when just 20 percent of middle-aged Americans were unmarried.

According to Brown, one in five single baby boomers is living in poverty, compared to one in 20 for their married counterparts. Single boomers are twice as likely to be disabled, but they are also less likely to have health insurance.

Of particular concern is the large share of single boomers who have never been married. According to the researchers, the probability of marrying for the first time during middle age is extremely low, meaning that nearly all of the never-married boomers will remain unmarried.

“The economic and health vulnerabilities of single boomers are concerning because boomers are now moving into old age when failing health becomes even more common and severe,” said Brown.

“In the past, family members, particularly spouses, have provided care to infirm older adults. But a growing share of older adults aren’t going to have a spouse available to rely on for support. Our figures indicate one in three boomers won’t have a spouse who can care for them. And unmarrieds are less likely to have children who might provide care. These shifting family patterns portend new strains on existing institutional supports for the elderly. As more singles enter older adulthood, we as a society may have to reconsider how we care for frail elders. The family may no longer be a viable option for an increasing segment of older adults.”

A study from the NCFMR featured in August’s Journal of Marriage and Family revealed more and more adults age 50 and over are choosing to live with their significant other instead of marrying them.

Using data from the 1998-2006 Health and Retirement Study and the 2000 and 2010 Current Population Survey, the study’s authors found that cohabitation among adults over age 50 more than doubled from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010.

This trend is now accelerating as the baby boomers – the first generation to cohabit in large numbers – move into the older adult population, suggesting that cohabitation will be increasingly common among older Americans. “Similar to their younger counterparts, older Americans are embracing cohabitation in record numbers,” Brown noted.

Brown and colleagues assert that cohabitation among older adults is important because it plays a unique role in the lives of older Americans. Living together provides many of the benefits of marriage such as partnership, without the potential costs, like the mingling of financial assets. “Older adults desire an intimate partnership, but without the legal constraints marriage entails,” Brown commented.

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(Posted October 22, 2012 )