Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Living apart together (LAT) in older adulthood

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Susan Brown (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Paul Morris (Other)

Third Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

I-Fen Lin (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Member)


Unmarried older adults have been increasing as a share of the population in recent decades due to changes in patterns of union formation and dissolution. Unmarried older adults may be in a non-residential relationship, which can be either a dating or living apart together (LAT) relationship. Yet, most social science surveys do not measure these relationships. Recent studies have called attention to LAT relationships among older adults. However, scant research examines LAT relationships in the United States using quantitative data. Researchers face challenges in studying LAT relationships, including how to define and measure LAT relationships. It is unclear whether LAT relationships are a new family form for older adults. Using data from the 2011 Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), this dissertation sheds light on conceptualizing LAT relationships in older adulthood. The WLS has a series of questions about dating behaviors that can be used to differentiate dating and LAT relationships. First, I examined what factors are associated with being in LAT relationships and whether LATs expect to cohabit or marry in the future. Second, I compared social and economic demographic characteristics of LAT relationships to other relationship types. Finally, I estimated how relationship type is linked the psychological well-being of older adults by comparing LATs and other relationship types, including single, dating, cohabitation, remarriage, and first marriage. The findings showed that LATs had different social and economic demographic characteristics than daters and cohabitors in later life. Older adults who were in LAT relationships were reluctant to expect to cohabit or marry in the future. LAT relationships were a long-term and committed relationship for older adults. About 86% of LATs had no expectations to either cohabit or marry. Previous marital experiences were associated with being in LAT relationships. Older adults who were divorced or widowed were more likely to be LATs and less likely to be daters or cohabitors. The psychological well-being of LATs was no worse than that of either cohabitors or married older adults. LAT relationships have unique meaning and benefits for psychological well-being in later life. The results confirmed that LAT relationships are distinct from cohabitation and marriage. This project provides new insights on LAT relationships in older adulthood.