As the Baby Boom generation enters retirement age, patterns of living among older persons are beginning to change. Unlike their predecessors, the Baby Boomers lived through the sexual revolution, divorced more easily and more often, and institutionalized new patterns of coupling, such as cohabitation. As a result, the rate of marriage has declined and the percent of the population classified as “single” has gone up. This age cohort has now moved into the sixty-five-plus group and makes up those we think of as the retirement generation, or the “Third Age” group. As longevity has increased and the divorce rate for this age group risen, growing numbers of older persons are unmarried and for longer periods. Yet they appear to have a continued desire for intimate relationships, along with an interest in more flexible forms of living. One lifestyle that many sociologists and gerontologists have noted as being particularly suited to those in this stage of life has been termed “living apart together,” or LAT.
LAT is a lifestyle in which the partners in a committed couple maintain separate residences. LATs typically spend several nights a week together, socialize together, vacation and spend holidays together, and yet each keeps his or her own home and separate finances. Because this makes it possible for seniors to combine independence with an intimate connection, LAT appears to be an attractive lifestyle for this group, as it permits them, among other things, to keep their own familiar space, preserve their inheritance for their children, and, in the case of women, protect themselves against gendered divisions of domestic labor characteristic of marriage.
Relying upon a number of sources, this paper examines LAT among Third Age adults. First, I explore the burgeoning literature on dating and partnership among older persons, as well as on sexuality and intimate relationships throughout this period of life. Second, I discuss research that has been done about LAT and persons in this age group, primarily by sociologists in Europe, Australia, and Canada. Third, I describe what my own empirical research has revealed about LAT among persons aged sixty-five and over; my research was based primarily on a series of qualitative interviews I carried out in 2016 with individuals in that age group who were currently in LAT couples. In conclusion, I consider what the response of family law should be to this new lifestyle.