On the day she decided to sell her wedding ring, Katie Dunn tucked the gleaming band into a Ziploc bag. The ring had been designed for her nearly two decades earlier, with swirls of yellow and white gold symbolizing the romance she had prayed would endure. But as she approached her 60s, her dreams and her marriage dissolved in resentment and regret.
“I wasn’t sentimental,” said Ms. Dunn, 55, who sold her ring last summer to a jeweler near her hometown of Denmark, Me. “I was like, it’s time to let this go.”
And with that, she joined the growing number of men and women in their 50s and 60s who are opting out of marriage and venturing into old age on their own.
Over the past 20 years, the divorce rate among baby boomers has surged by more than 50 percent, even as divorce rates over all have stabilized nationally. At the same time, more adults are remaining single. The shift is changing the traditional portrait of older Americans: About a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 1970, according to an analysis of recently released census data conducted by demographers at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.
Sociologists expect those numbers to rise sharply in coming decades as younger people, who have far lower rates of marriage than their elders, move into middle age.
Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State, said the trend would transform the lives of many older people.
The elderly, who have traditionally relied on spouses for their care, will increasingly struggle to fend for themselves. And federal and local governments will have to shoulder much of the cost of their care. Unmarried baby boomers are five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts, statistics show. They are also three times as likely to receive food stamps, public assistance or disability payments.
“We can’t just say that older people don’t get divorced or that middle-aged people won’t grow old alone,” said Dr. Brown, who analyzed the census data with I-Fen Lin, an associate professor of sociology at Bowling Green State. The research was published online in The Gerontologist. “Now we actually need to pay attention to it, not only to the factors that precipitate it, but also to the consequences,” Dr. Brown said.
The surge in the number of older, unmarried Americans has been driven by several factors, including longevity, economics and evolving social mores, according to sociologists.
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SOURCE: The New York Times