Growing Number of Baby Boomers Opt-Out of Marriage

The traditional portrait of older Americans is changing. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the divorce rate among baby boomers has exploded to over 50 percent. This new trend will have a resounding impact on the lives of many older Americans.

The baby boomers are very different from the generations that came before them. They are living longer, and feeling less pressure than their parents and grandparents did to stay in an unhappy marriage. Moreover, the women of the baby boomer generation are more financially independent and willing to go at it alone.

Demographer William H. Frey warns that unmarried baby boomers should expect to confront greater economic hardships than their married counterparts. Traditionally, elderly Americans have relied on their spouses for care. As an increasing amount of Americans head into retirement without a spouse, many will look to federal and local governments to provide for their care.

Statistics show that unmarried baby boomers are five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts. Unmarried baby boomers are also three times more likely to be recipients of public assistance, food stamps, or disability payments.

The impact extends to estate planning and elder law issues as well. There are opportunities afforded to spouses, which don’t extend to people who are unmarried but living together. While no one should stay in an unhappy marriage because it’s convenient for legal planning purposes, neither should they turn a blind eye to those considerations.

For instance I had a couple visit with me recently concerned about protecting assets against long-term care expenses. The short of it was they had no idea that their arrangement nearly ensured that the “healthy” partner would get kicked out of the house when it had to be sold for Medicaid purposes. Their estate plan, which didn’t include any elder law considerations, provided good protection for them when they died. It did nothing for them if they got sick and lived.