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Marriages a growing casualty of aging for baby boomers

There were three of us pedaling on the stationary bikes lined in a row along the wall at the physical therapy center. Each bike had its own screen to let us tally our imaginary laps and check how many non-imaginary calories we were burning. • Talking always makes the pedaling seem easier, so we were yakking. Actually, we were discussing divorce — specifically, the latest AARP Bulletin article trumpeting "divorce rates for 50-plus adults are surging." And " 'gray divorce' puts pressure on finances." • Said the woman to my right, "It's true. I've been married 48 years and I would never get divorced because it's just not a smart thing financially. But more and more women I know who have been married a long time are staying married but doing less with their husbands.

"The happiest women I know are on their own. Alone."

Said the other woman, "I never got married, so I avoided the problem."

I acknowledged that I had been married. Twice, actually. But now I am a widow and, while I miss my late husband, I'm happy not to have a man in my life right now.

Our conversation seems to validate the AARP conclusion that the divorce rate has doubled for baby boomers, putting pressure on finances and sending ripples throughout America.

While reasons vary, the most cited are:

• Longer life spans (which mean more years with an incompatible spouse).

• No kids at home, so no reason to stay together.

• Less of a stigma about divorce.

• More women working.

Meanwhile, the remarriage "failure" rate is 60 percent, AARP says.

The article quotes Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, who says, "If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic."

Sue Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, tells AARP that one out of three boomers will face old age unmarried.

So what?

Well, for one thing, there's the money. Or what's left of it.

Splitting up splits the pot, of course.

Even thinking about that freaks some people out. As my physical therapist recalls, at the height of the stock market meltdown in 2008 one of his male patients complained, "I've lost half my money and I'm still married."

AARP says the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey published by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that more than half of all workers or spouses have less than $25,000 in savings and investments.

Women earn less than men, on average, and live longer than men, on average, as well. Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, says 20 percent of women will end up living in poverty.

And then there's caregiving, usually a woman's job. "Older men may make out better financially than women, but they don't fare so well at finding someone to take care of them when they're older," AARP says.

Imagine adult children caring for parents who are split up.

Oh, yes, there are co-housing projects popping up in different parts of the country. Some people even buy property — usually condos — together.

The gist is that, overall, women survive being alone better than men but often are surviving on a lot less money.

Late-life divorce — often when kids leave home and spouses suddenly realize they just have each other to be involved with for the rest of their lives — may be the coming practice for boomers but not their offspring.

USA Today reported this year that 27 percent of women who cohabit are unmarried mothers. In other words, these women are prepared to take care of themselves and their offspring. Right?

Maybe marriage is becoming obsolete? Maybe working men and women will just "partner"?

Sure.

Actually, surely unlikely.

What we can hope for is more meaningful marriages and partnerships. Marriages based on compatibility and shared interests.

Could that end up being the boomer legacy?

Marriages a growing casualty of aging for baby boomers 06/26/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 4:30am]
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