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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2005 Jan;60(1):S21-9.

The significance of nonmarital cohabitation: marital status and mental health benefits among middle-aged and older adults.

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Department of Sociology and Center for Family and Demographic Research, Bowling Green State University, 222 Williams Hall, Bowling Green, OH 43403, USA.



According to the 2000 Census, about 1.2 million persons over age 50 are currently cohabiting. Do these unmarried cohabiting partnerships provide adults with mental health benefits that are similar to those enjoyed by marrieds? We extended prior work on marital status and depression by including cohabitation in our conceptualization of marital status.


We used data from the 1998 Health and Retirement Study (N = 18,598) to examine the relationship between marital status and depressive symptoms among adults over age 50. We also examined gender differences in this association.


We found that cohabitors report more depressive symptoms, on average, than do marrieds, net of economic resources, social support, and physical health. Additional analyses revealed that only among men do cohabitors report significantly higher depression scores. Cohabiting and married women as well as cohabiting men experience similar levels of depression, and all of these groups report levels that are significantly higher than married men's.


Our findings demonstrate the importance of accounting for nontraditional living arrangements among persons aged 50 and older. Cohabitation appears to be more consequential for men's than women's depressive symptoms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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