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Did you know that many couples in old age do not live in a common household?

April 2021

Relationships in which the partners do not share a common household are called living-apart-together relationships (LAT). This is often the case among younger age groups, e.g., as an early relationship stage before couples move together or get married. But can we observe such partnerships even among the oldest old population, i.e., among persons aged above 80 years?

ISS researcher Stefan Mauritz and Michael Wagner addressed this question in a recently published study. For this purpose, data was used from the representative survey Quality of Life and Subjective Well-Being of the Very Old in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW80+), which was conducted from 2016 to 2018 and which contains information of 1,863 individuals aged 80 years and older.

While the total share of partnerships among persons aged above 80 years is declining with age, the prevalence of LAT relationships in relation to all partnerships is increasing. In average, 13.3% of the partners in old age do not live in a common household. LAT relationships are especially prevalent among women aged 90 years and older: In this group, more than every third partnership is a LAT relationship. Also remarkable is the fact that the majority of LAT relationships in old age are among married partners. In total, about two-thirds of the LAT partners in old age are married.

It is assumable that one of the reasons leading to the dispersion of LAT relationships in the old age is the increasing need for institutional care. If one partner moves to a nursing home because of his or her health condition, a previous coresidential union turns into a LAT relationship. The meaning of such a situation for the partners could be part of future research. Hence, also living arrangements of the oldest old people should receive more attention in current family research.