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Unmarried Older Adults: Who’s Dating, Who’s Not?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Larry Forthun, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Some years after my grandfather passed away, my grandmother began dating another man. As a child, I was interested in this, since I had associated “dating” with teenagers and young people. I think I thought that older adults were always either married or lived alone.

Of course, my childhood oversimplification was incorrect. And today, in fact, there’s a lot of opportunity for those who are 65-plus to date, since the majority of American adults over that age are now unmarried. Changes in marriage and divorce rates and longer life expectancies have led to larger numbers of single older adults.

Indeed, cohabitation is becoming more common in this age group as generational attitudes have shifted. But what do we really know about the dating habits of older Americans?

Survey Points to Differences

A recent survey of more than 1,000 older adults nationwide sought to find out more. All those surveyed were between the ages of 57 and 85, and none were married or cohabiting. Respondents were asked if they “currently [had] a romantic, intimate, or sexual partner” (Brown & Shinohara, 2013, p. 1196).

Fourteen percent indicated that they did have a person like this in their lives. However, the percentage who were dating differed dramatically by age, gender, wealth, and other factors.

More Advantaged Groups Date More

First of all, more than a quarter of the men surveyed had a dating partner, compared to only seven percent of the women. This is very likely because men tend to date women the same age or younger than themselves, while women tend to date men the same age or older.

Women who did date were much more likely to be divorced than widowed. And while almost 20% of the youngest seniors were dating, just 9% of those over 75 said the same.

Daters were also wealthier, more educated, more likely to be able to drive, and in better health than those not dating. And both male and female daters were more socially connected overall than nondaters.

Later-life dating can provide a number of benefits to those who partake, without involving the commitments to long-term care or the financial complexities that later-life marriage may bring. However, it’s noteworthy that the positive aspects of dating in older age don’t seem to be equally enjoyed by all. As the number of unmarried older adults continues to grow, perhaps these benefits will become more available to more of those who desire them.

References:

Brown, S. L., & Shinohara, S. K. (2013). Dating relationships in older adulthood: A national portrait. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 1194-1202. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12065

Photo Credits: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Thinkstock

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2013). A portrait of older daters. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)