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Keywords:

  • aging;
  • cohabitation;
  • families in middle and later life;
  • marriage

Cohabitation among adults over age 50 is rising rapidly, more than doubling from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010. A small literature provides a descriptive portrait of older cohabitors, but no study has investigated transitions into and out of cohabitation during later life. Drawing on demographic and life course perspectives, the authors developed a framework for conceptualizing later life union behaviors. Using data from the 1998–2006 Health and Retirement Study, they estimated discrete-time event-history models predicting union formation (i.e., cohabitation or marriage) among older unmarried individuals (N = 3,736) as well as transitions to either marriage or separation among older cohabitors (N = 377). Those who formed a union were as likely to be in a cohabiting relationship as a marriage. Older adult cohabiting unions were quite stable and unlikely to culminate in either marriage or separation. During later life, cohabitation appears to operate as a long-term alternative to marriage.