Navigating Love in Later Life: Senior Citizens' Choices Between Marriage and Cohabitation

Exploring the Perspectives of Senior Citizens on Marriage vs. Living Together

I am 72 and I have been married to my wife for 40 years. Would we have been together this long without the bonds of matrimony? I am sure our love would have endured and kept us together. So why did we get married? Partly because of tradition and partly because marriage serves as a binding agent. In a world where social norms are constantly evolving, the attitudes and preferences regarding marriage and cohabitation have seen significant shifts. One demographic that offers a particularly interesting perspective on this topic is senior citizens. As people live longer and healthier lives, seniors are redefining their relationships in ways that align with their personal values, experiences, and societal changes. Let's delve into how senior citizens feel about marriage compared to living together and the factors influencing their choices, supported by relevant statistics and religious perspectives.

The Evolution of Relationships in Later Life

Traditionally, marriage has been seen as the ultimate commitment and a cornerstone of a stable and socially acceptable relationship. However, as societal norms have changed, so too have the views of senior citizens on marriage and cohabitation.

  1. Cultural and Generational Influences: Many seniors grew up in an era where marriage was the expected and often the only socially acceptable form of long-term partnership. Divorce was stigmatized, and living together without being married was frowned upon. Despite these ingrained cultural norms, today's seniors are adapting to new societal values that offer more flexibility in personal relationships.

  2. Personal Experiences and Histories: Personal history plays a crucial role in shaping attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation. Seniors who have experienced a long, happy marriage may view remarriage positively if they find a new partner later in life. Conversely, those who have gone through a difficult marriage or a painful divorce may prefer the independence and lower stakes associated with living together without legal ties.

  1. Practical Considerations: Practical concerns are often at the forefront of decisions about marriage versus cohabitation for seniors. Financial implications, such as the impact on Social Security benefits, pensions, and healthcare, can heavily influence these decisions. Additionally, issues related to estate planning, inheritance, and tax benefits are significant factors that seniors must consider.

Marriage: A Symbol of Commitment

For many senior citizens, marriage remains a powerful symbol of commitment, stability, and societal approval. Here are some reasons why seniors may still choose marriage over cohabitation:

  1. Emotional Security: Marriage provides a sense of emotional security and companionship, which can be especially important as people age. Knowing that they have a partner who is legally bound to them can provide comfort and reduce feelings of loneliness.

  2. Social and Familial Expectations: Some seniors may feel pressure from their families or social circles to remarry rather than just live together. For those with traditional values, marriage might be seen as the only legitimate way to formalize a relationship.

  3. Legal Protections: Marriage offers legal protections that cohabitation does not. In the event of a partner's illness or death, a spouse has clear legal rights to make medical decisions and inherit property, which can be crucial for seniors.

  1. Statistics on Longevity: Studies have shown that married couples tend to have longer-lasting relationships. According to a study published by the National Institute on Aging, married individuals over 50 are less likely to experience relationship dissolution compared to their cohabiting counterparts. The study found that married couples had a 50% lower risk of separation or divorce compared to those who cohabited.

  2. Religious Perspectives:

    • Christianity: In Christianity, marriage is considered a sacred covenant between two people and God. Many Christian denominations believe that living together without being married is contrary to biblical teachings. The sanctity of marriage is emphasized in scriptures such as Hebrews 13:4, which states, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." Therefore, for many Christian seniors, marriage is the preferred and often required form of relationship. 

    • Islam: In Islam, marriage (nikah) is a highly valued institution and is considered a moral safeguard as well as a social contract. Cohabitation without marriage is generally prohibited, and Islamic teachings strongly encourage legal and religious marriage as the only acceptable form of relationship between a man and a woman. The Quran states in Surah An-Nur (24:32), "And marry those among you who are single..." highlighting the importance of marriage. For Muslim seniors, adherence to these teachings often means choosing marriage over living together without formal commitment.

    • Judaism: In Judaism, marriage is regarded as a mitzvah (commandment) and a sacred bond between two individuals. The Torah and Talmud extensively discuss the importance of marriage and family. Living together without marriage is generally discouraged as it does not fulfill the religious and legal aspects of a Jewish union. Jewish law (halacha) requires a formal marriage ceremony (kiddushin) and the creation of a marriage contract (ketubah). Therefore, Jewish seniors are likely to favor marriage over cohabitation.

Living Together: Flexibility and Independence

On the other hand, a growing number of senior citizens are choosing to live together without getting married. This arrangement can offer several advantages:

  1. Maintaining Independence: Cohabitation allows seniors to maintain a level of independence that might be compromised by marriage. They can share their lives without the legal and financial entanglements that come with marriage, which can be particularly appealing for those who value their autonomy.

  2. Financial Considerations: Living together without marriage can sometimes be financially beneficial. Seniors may wish to avoid the potential loss of benefits or complications in estate planning that could arise from marriage.

  3. Avoiding Legal Complications: Seniors who have been through complicated divorces may prefer the simplicity of living together without legal commitments. This arrangement can avoid the legal and financial complications that come with another marriage.

  4. Statistics on Cohabitation: According to the Pew Research Center, about 4% of senior citizens aged 65 and older were living with an unmarried partner in 2016, a number that has been steadily increasing. This reflects a growing trend towards cohabitation among older adults who seek companionship without the formalities of marriage.


The perspectives of senior citizens on marriage versus living together reflect a blend of traditional values, modern pragmatism, and religious beliefs. While marriage remains an important institution for many, an increasing number of seniors are opting for the flexibility and independence of cohabitation. Ultimately, the decision depends on personal values, past experiences, practical considerations, and the desire for emotional security.

As society continues to evolve, it is essential to respect and support the diverse choices seniors make regarding their relationships. Whether choosing marriage or cohabitation, what matters most is that senior citizens find happiness and fulfillment in their partnerships, in whatever form they may take.