Skip to comments.Loosened Family Ties Haunt Baby Boomer Vanguard Reaching Age 60
Posted on 04/21/2006 11:56:05 AM PDT by Incorrigible
Loosened Family Ties Haunt Baby Boomer Vanguard Reaching Age 60
BY KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
At first, the only thing setting the earliest baby boomers apart was their sheer number.
They acted much like their parents' generation when it came to life's milestones. By age 20, nearly half of the first wave of boomers were married. Once married, they started having children.
The similarity ended there.
Now, as the boomers born in 1946 reach age 60, they have experienced more family disruption than their parents could have imagined. Love has been a bumpy journey.
As a result, they head into their senior years far more likely to be divorced, remarried, cohabiting or living alone. Demographers warn such disruption could leave this generation with weaker family ties, making them more vulnerable as they age and need help.
"Many of these ties are going to be frail," says Mary Elizabeth Hughes, a Duke University sociologist who has studied the boomers. "They don't have the glue that previous ties did."
While every generation has seen some of its members divorce, remarry or live alone, those numbers are all bigger for the group Hughes calls the "early boomers," those born from 1946 to 1955.
Consider Jim and Claudia Burns of Whippany, N.J. These two "class of '46" boomers have five marriages between them. She's on her third; he's on his second.
Claudia isn't exactly proud of her two previous divorces, but she isn't ashamed of them, either. "I have a theory," she says philosophically. "I believe I needed a different husband for each stage of my life. I feel like there was a reason for each person."
As she and Jim approach their third wedding anniversary this June, she says emphatically: "This time is it. We just know it."
Sociologist Hughes says of the 1946-55 babies, "We're rewriting the books here":
-- They are twice as likely to live alone as their parents' generation. While the percentage is not huge -- just 11 percent -- it reflects a striking break with the past.
Hughes is quick to say she doesn't equate living alone with being lonely, or being without support. "You could be living alone but you could have tons of friends filling the gap. Living alone is only one piece of the puzzle -- a huge piece. But other social connections matter, too," she says. "When living alone becomes a problem is if you need help."
-- By age 40, a third of early boomer women were divorced. By contrast, only 13 percent of their parents' generation were divorced by that age.
It is a myth, however, that early boomers began the divorce revolution. Their older siblings, the War Babies of 1936-45, were the generation that actually led the upsurge in divorce. But early boomers then went on to surpass them. (And their rate was topped in turn by the younger boomers, those born 1956-64.)
Many of those divorced boomers remarried -- but not all. "Remarriage rates for them are on the high side, but not high enough to compensate for all the divorces," Hughes says.
-- Raised to look on cohabitation as "shacking up," early boomers nonetheless came to adopt living together as an acceptable way to form a family. Even in middle age, 4 percent were living with non-relatives; the figure was a paltry 1 percent for their parents.
"It simply wasn't in people's repertoire," Hughes says. "Now, however, people view it as an option." With the children grown, couples no longer need marriage to confer legitimacy on their offspring, and they may well want to remain single to protect pension benefits or inheritances. (An unknown amount of the cohabiting reflects gay relationships.)
By far the most common living arrangement for those turning 60 this year is the traditional one: living with one's spouse. In the 2000 Census, such a family configuration accounted for 61 percent of early boomer households -- an 11 percent drop from their parents at that same stage in life.
While some of those are second or even third marriages, many are couples still in first marriages and coming up on their 40th anniversaries.
Claudia Burns, the boomer now on her third -- "and last!" -- marriage, says her first husband was instrumental in helping her reach her goal of becoming a teacher. He was from what she describes as "the right side of the tracks," and his mother was a teacher.
That marriage foundered 10 years later as she felt his support wane. By then, the couple had two children. It took her only six months to decide on divorce; it didn't occur to her to try marriage counseling. "In hindsight, I didn't give him a chance," she says.
Her second marriage lasted 25 years -- many of them unhappy as strains developed over her "warm and fuzzy" mate's de facto role as a househusband. Still, she resisted divorce for years until it was obvious counseling had failed.
"I thought, `Two is bad. I am not going to be divorced again. I am not going to be Elizabeth Taylor!"' she says.
She and Jim met when she was a last-minute guest at a friend's New Year's Eve party in Atlanta, where she lived at the time. Jim was there visiting his adult children and had a flight home the next day. He called her that evening -- and every day they were apart since then. Their long-distance courtship was high-tech, with Saturday night "dates" on the Internet, using web cameras.
This time, she believes, she has finally gotten it right -- both in her choice of mate and in her expectations. "We haven't had a single fight," she says.
The level of divorce experienced by the early boomers is worrisome, Hughes says, because marital status affects both health and wealth.
Married people live longer. The divorced are at greater risk for health problems, even after remarriage. Demographers call it divorce's "health scar." Finances take a big hit as well, as the family's assets are spread over two households.
The concern is that such continued churning of family roles may make some extended families less likely to help once old age sets in.
Will adult children look after an elderly step-parent with the same devotion they would show a parent? If Mom remarries, then dies, will her children feel obliged to look after her second husband?
If the remarriage took place when the children were small, the resulting bonds may be as strong as blood ties, Hughes says. But if the remarriage happens after the kids have left the nest, what then?
In some divorces, the father ends up seeing far less of his children -- a problem that has always been viewed from the perspective of the needs of the child. But what about later in life, when the tables turn?
"We're used to thinking about dads who abandon their kids," Hughes says. "Well, when those guys are old, they're not going to have their kids around to help."
Compounding that worry is speculation that boomers may continue their pattern of "serial monogamy" even as they become senior citizens.
Divorce is traditionally rare among the elderly; the stress of child-rearing is over, and any marriage lasting so long is likely to be hearty anyway. So there is reason to believe the oldest boomers are done with divorce.
Yet that may be an outdated assumption. After all, says Hughes, this generation upended expectations at every stage of life. It may continue to divorce, remarry or cohabit well into old age.
Claudia Burns is sure she won't be one of those, in part because each of her two previous divorces taught her essential lessons about marriage. "This time, when we married, we didn't try to change each other," she says.
April 21, 2006
(Kathleen O'Brien is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. She can be contacted at email@example.com.)
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This is a sad trend of divorce being so common.
I thik people's expecations of what marriage is and what marriage should be has changed. Divorce was once a last resort, or shameful, now it's no big deal.
But then again, close families like "The Waltons" were not common even in the old days. In so many families, people don't get along, or do something to cause family rifts. That was true in the old days and still true today. So as far as having family to take care of you in your old age, that was always problematical.
I had a chilling dream about some time, perhaps 30 or 35 years in the future, where, due to the impact of all the aging Boomers, the government / the sheeple had created something along the line of giant refugee camps or slightly more elegent than hobo camp places. To be fair, there were solid buildings and OK facilties, at least military or hospital grade. The deal was, by law, everyone had to move to these places at say, age 72. The idea was cost containment by amassing the aged. Things like mass bathing in heavily chlorinated water with detergent, etc with no segregation of the sexes. Mess hall eating, etc. Sort of like old folks homes of a truly massive scale. Could it happen? I say it could. I woke up in a cold sweat from that dream.
Fascinating. It makes sense not segregating them as you can barely tell the difference between the men and women in the boomers generation and on. They have themselves to thank for that. Prescient dream-just hope my taxes don't have to pay for their dorm facilities.
Divorce was once a last resort, or shameful, now it's no big deal.
Of course the advantage is that as people age, I think their expectations wrt a spouse are more realistic (lower?).
X gen kids expect parents to make it on Social Security.
That's the way it looks. I learned a long time ago, though, that I have my hands full understanding what's going on in my own marriage, let alone anyone else's. :)
Your generational snippiness is duly noted. We Boomers did not ask our parents to have so many children; most of us would have been delighted to be only children (like me). Don't worry about paying for my dorm room; like many Boomers, I'm saving and investing - and inheriting - so I won't be your responsibility. My oil stock alone made me about ten thousand dollars this week. ;)
Snippiness is an interesting word choice here. Disgust is probably a word I would use to define my feelings about the boomers--having grown up in the sh--culture that they redefined. If someone came into my home as a baby and killed my whole family and then raised me to disregard God and all things precious and beautiful, I may one day after waking up and realizing I had been trapped and brainwashed and my family destroyed, feel a certain amount of deep anguish. This anguish and sadness would exist for a time even though if I would have responsibly made the neccesary corrections to get back on the right path.
We Boomers did not ask our parents to have so many children; most of us would have been delighted to be only children (like me). Don't worry about paying for my dorm room;
As mentioned above my strong feelings of dislike for the generation overall has no connection to the quantity of its members, but the results of their actions.
like many Boomers, I'm saving and investing - and inheriting - so I won't be your responsibility. My oil stock alone made me about ten thousand dollars this week. ;)
Thank God. At least you are a boomer capitalist. I commend this self responsibility and I applaud your great success! So many boomers preach socialists ideals and blame. It is not my job to judge you personally, as I don't even know you. But I do with good experience--having grown up with seven brothers and sisters that are boomers (yes, seven)and--having lived in the the boomers cultural dregs, judge boomers destructive contributions to our country and world. Selfish self-centeredness captures much of it.
That was my thought, all about her and what she needed. What about her husbands and their needs? YEESH! How selfish!
"with good experience--having grown up with seven brothers and sisters that are boomers (yes, seven)and--having lived in the the boomers cultural dregs, judge boomers destructive contributions to our country and world. Selfish self-centeredness captures much of it."
I'm sorry you feel your siblings were raised so badly. I hope you'll do better with your own.
Best to you, too, but ultimately I don't get the point of demonizing a generation. It seems to be a great sport around here, though.
I see a few points left out of here. I am second generation American. I grew up in a community from the same heritage. The communities were interdependent on each other. Property taxes, zoning, chain stores and eminent domain crushed the communities. I think that had an effect on crushing bonds and ties too.
These are the years for boomers to regret the abortions they had in their youth.
I think that is about the time media propaganda started digging it's roots in too. I'm still shocked to this day how many women read those brain washing magazines about how their lives should be.
Yep, I fear for my future tax rate ....
My brothers and sisters were not raised badly and after my kindness towards you, I certainly do not appreciate this cheap shot. Another example of the lack of respect and kindness coming from this generation's behavior. The more I am in conversation with you and can see why it is hard to grasp the anger toward the boomers.
As far as my own children, I, my darling, believed the lies of the boomers that I could have it all and put off both marriage and children until it became much to late for me. I tried unsuccessfully. Now I will not be one of the blessed few to have a gift of a child. This is not blame, but an acknowledgment that feminism preaching and effects on our culture leaves many scars. May your money keep you happy love.
Many of them may even be stupid enough to think SSI will help them.
PS: I am a late Boomer.
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