Cohabiting boomers

Nobody who pays the slightest attention to our society should be surprised that the number of men and women who choose to move in with each other and not get married has been on a steady increase for many decades. Songs like Joni Mitchell’s “My Old Man” were the soundtrack for boomers who wanted to be free, including free from the traditional societal stigma over “shacking up.” In her words, she and her old man had no need of a piece of paper from the city hall. Estimates are that about 18 million couples in the U.S. have chosen cohabitation over marriage.

I suppose that most people assume that these are all young people, that the boomers have gotten their youthful rebellions out of their systems and have now found the value of marriage. You would think also that couples who have stayed together for 30 years are now past the risk of divorce. Well, not so much. Divorces of people age 50+ are on the rise, as is boomer cohabitation. Seriously! The Pew Research Center reports that in the last 13 years, the number of 50+ couples who have moved in with each other without marriage has leaped from 1.2 to 3.3 million. Wow! Whatever lingering stigma there may have been over cohabitation is now gone. The boomers have stopped sniffing at the millennials and are now imitating them. And here’s another crazy thing—the millennials cohabit as a stepping-stone to marriage. Cohabiting boomers don’t ever plan to be married.

What reasons are these older Americans giving for moving in without marriage? The researchers say:

  • Divorcees don’t want to lose their alimony payments. They want their cake and want to eat it too.
  • Widows and widowers don’t want to lose their survivor benefits. They fear that remarriage will end those payments.
  • They want to preserve their assets for their children, not have them go to a new spouse or that spouse’s children.
  • They are wary of having to commit their time and assets to someone who is now entering the time of life with most health care problems.
  • Some couples are convinced that they will suffer a tax hit if they combine incomes.
  • They want to gain the benefits of marriage (romance, intimacy, shared life) while still preserving their financial independence.
  • Some divorcees are so traumatized by their previous terrible marriage that they swear they will never do it again.

People who are not believers obviously don’t have God in their plans. Once they perceive that society’s stigma is gone, they feel totally free to make their own living arrangements. Unless they change, they will fall under God’s judgment. Some Christian seniors, however, who are determined to cohabit and yet know the Bible’s condemnation of adultery and fornication have worked out a double game—they move in together, choose not to get a license from the state but have an unregistered marriage ceremony at their church. So they represent themselves as married in their church world and as unmarried in their civic world.

I just can’t think that God would like and bless that double game. Here’s why:

  1. Marriage is under enough stress in today’s world that Christians should not do anything publicly to undermine it. They should care how they look to the people in their community. If they look like cohabiters, they make it easier for others to do the same and bring more sin into the world.
  2. God absolutely always will provide for people who do the right thing, even when it appears that they will initially suffer some kind of loss.
  3. The double game is essentially dishonest. You can’t fully publicly call your partner “husband” or “wife.”

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-23 KJV).

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of several books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.


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