A growing number of senior citizens are choosing companionship outside marriage, the census shows.
By J. NEALY-BROWN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2001
If along with the thought of growing old comes the thought of being alone, many seniors in the Tampa Bay area are thinking again.
They are increasingly choosing another option: a roommate. Or live-in companion. Or partner. Someone they can wake up to, have coffee with or hear bumping around the house.
It's the kind of news that many may be reluctant to talk about, but census figures released Tuesday show an increase in the number of people 65 and older who are living with non-relatives.
"That is a viable living option for seniors," said Barbara Krueger, founder of Seniorresource.com. "While one or the other might not be able to live independently, together they can manage."
Some seniors who visit the Sunshine Center in St. Petersburg were reluctant to discuss their living arrangements. They cohabitate but would rather not tell the world about it, said officials at the center.
In Pinellas County, the number of seniors cohabitating increased from 2,497 to 3,304, or about 32 percent, from 1990 to 2000.
In Hillsborough County, the number climbed from 1,156 to 1,841, or about 60 percent. The number of seniors cohabitating in Pasco County number almost doubled, from 868 to 1,513.
"I have been hearing about this for several years," said Larry Polivka, director of the Florida Policy Center on Aging at the University of South Florida. "I don't think it's a big phenomenon at this point. It may grow with the aging of the baby boomers."
Still, there are signs that seniors are demanding companionship. Increasingly there are services that will find roommates for seniors. Polivka points out that some programs specialize in pairing seniors with college students. In exchange for inexpensive housing, the students can provide transportation, security and help around the house.
For financial and emotional reasons, the trend is on the rise.
For example, "some women have never lived alone. And in those days, you moved out of your parents' house for only one reason and that was because you were getting married," Krueger said.
But not everyone wants their cohabitation lifestyle to be broadcast, even if they're not ashamed of how they live.
Krueger said some men and women who married under social pressure decades ago later realize that they are gay.
In her consulting work, she has found dozens of women living together who are lesbians but "want to appear to the world as if they are just two women living together."
With heterosexual couples, the desire to keep the cohabitation a secret is no different.
"They live together, and all their friends assume that at some point they've gotten married," Krueger said. "And a lot of times you don't (get married) because of complications of your children. There are so many reasons why people might live together and not be married."