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A single, older man is harder to find

Single women older than 55 years old are outnumbering men in the same age range nearly by a 3 to 1 ratio.

By LEONORA LAPETER
Published April 27, 2006


[Times photo: William Dunkley]
Jim Webster, 72, converses with Evelyn Johnston, 85, during a On Top of the World Singles Club meeting in Clearwater on Feb. 4.
Chart: Older singles -- Men in demand
Read more from this series

CLEARWATER - Recently divorced, 72-year-old Jim Webster moved to On Top of the World two months ago. It's been a whirlwind of meeting people - mostly women.

At this senior community of about 7,000, Webster has what it takes: unattached, male.

He realized how much he was in demand when he stood in the middle of the monthly singles meeting and counted just three other men and 55 other women, and the lady with the microphone was saying, "we need men very badly" and "you need to get out and dig us up some."

Webster joined the Irish Club, not because he is Irish, but because he wants to meet, well, he says other singles, but what he means is women. He joined the New England Club, and the Pennsylvania Club and the Great Lakes Club, the Columbia Club and the New York/New Jersey Club, and it's true, he's visited some of those places, though he's never lived there.

"I didn't come over here to watch TV," said Webster, a retired independent insurance agent. "I'm a busy man."

The senior singles scene is a buffet for men but can be a prison meal for women. It is the time of life when the ratio of unattached men to women is the most uneven.

The latest census figures for Tampa Bay show about 217 percent more single women than single men older than 65. That's three older unattached women per man. At On Top of the World, the ratio is about five to one.

"For single men, interested to meet the ladies, they're not out in the desert here," Webster said in his Florida-born drawl. "This is what I might call a target-rich area, so to speak, and that's true of all the places I go."

* * *

The main reason for the imbalance is that women live longer than men. The life expectancy for an average American woman is 80, for a man it's 75 - though that gap has been narrowing due to an increase in lung cancer deaths among women and a decrease in heart disease deaths among men.

The shortage of available older men is even more pronounced among widows: There are four widowed women in Tampa Bay for every widowed man.

The other key element driving the imbalance is that older women who divorce or are widowed don't remarry as fast as their male counterparts.

More and more older people get divorces nowadays. In 1960, only 1.6 percent of men and 1.5 percent of women age 65 and older were divorced; but by 2003, 7 percent of older men and 8.6 percent of older women were divorced and had not remarried.

"And a lot of the women don't remarry, so there are a lot more unmarried women at that age spectrum than men," said Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of Unmarried America, an education and advocacy organization for single people.

Sara Kanstoroom of Tarpon Springs, a widow of four years who was married for 40 years, averages three dates a week. She is a member of four different Pinellas County singles groups and also gets together with a group of about 10 single girlfriends aged 60 to 65.

"They're looking for Mr. Right," she said. "I'm looking for Mr. Fun."

Experts say this explains why older women tend to be happier single than older men. They are better at setting up a social network and a support system.

"I think women have more resources to live single," said E. Kay Trimberger, author of The New Single Woman. "They have a network of family and friends that provide intimacy and support and fun. They're not isolated."

Many older men, not as adept at creating social networks, can find themselves alone and unhappy.

Even Webster, the retired insurance agent who's doing all the right things to develop a social network, acknowledges: "I don't really like living by myself."

* * *

Marlene Harris, 70, and Bruce Turnbull, 86, were on a date. Their destination? The monthly singles meeting at On Top of the World, complete with a pianist, a singer and pink-and-white-frosted cupcakes with plastic Valentine's Day heart rings on top.

They took their seats among 55 other women and three other men in the recreation room. The performer sang, "Somebody loves you . . ."

Turnbull, a retired salesman and marketer for an electrical business in Michigan, lost his wife about six years ago. He arrived at On Top of the World a month ago and is dating two women. To him, dating is about doing things with people, not starting a romantic liaison.

"After 57 years of marriage, I'm looking for companionship," he said.

Harris, divorced almost 29 years, moved from Ohio to On Top of the World last year. She's been on many dates over the years.

"I would love to meet a man and get married again," she said. "But I don't think I will. I haven't found what I wanted, but I'm not unhappy."

She and Turnbull are just pals, she says. Of the many other single women at On Top of the World, she said, "I don't think the vast majority are really looking for somebody."

* * *

Irene Marshall is 75; her fourth husband, Jim, is 81. They met about five years ago. She was on her church's flower committee and delivered an arrangement to his second wife, who was sick and died later that night.

They saw each other at church and their love bloomed. In five months, Jim was off the market.

Marshall, one of the thousands of married seniors who live at On Top of the World, is among the relatively low number of senior women to find a spouse in old age and and remarry. In 1990, the last year for which figures are available, two of every 1,000 widowed women age 56 and older remarried, compared with 14 of every 1,000 widowed men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Marshall is a strong believer in meeting men at church. She tells her single friends that's how she met her husbands and that's where they should go.

"There aren't enough men to go around," she said. "I was lucky. I've been fortunate to have four beautiful Christian men."

Staff writer Matthew Waite and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

THE SERIES

MONDAY: Married women used to outnumber singles, overwhelmingly. No more. Singles are overtaking them.

TUESDAY: More people - men especially - are waiting until they're older before they marry. Even into their 50s.

WEDNESDAY: The number of divorced women is 33 percent higher than the number of divorced men.

TODAY: Seniors: As always, not enough available men.

ON THE WEB: For previous installments of this series, and to make comments, go to links.tampabay.com.

[Last modified April 27, 2006, 10:37:14]


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