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Unmarried valentines: You can avoid a wedding, but don't dodge insurance

Valentine's Day evokes images of togetherness, love and marriage, but a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that getting struck by Cupid's arrow no longer means you're likely to make a trip to the altar.

Pew's recent review of U.S. census data revealed that fewer and fewer couples are choosing to formalize their relationships with marriage ceremonies. Only 20 percent of adults under age 30 are married, compared to 59 percent in 1960. They are facing life's trials -- and their insurance needs -- as single people.

Marriage long has been thought of as a life-changing event that triggers insurance purchases, but the new aversion to tying the knot doesn't worry industry professionals. That's because a decline in nuptials doesn't mean that singles and unmarried couples will need less protection against unforeseen perils. For example, almost everyone who owns a dwelling needs home insurance, regardless of marital status.

No insurance for broken hearts

unmarried couples"Just like love, life is unpredictable," says Peter Moraga, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC). If you choose not to marry, "you still are going to face all of the same perils. If you rent an apartment, you'll need renters insurance. If you drive, you'll need auto insurance. There's only one kind of policy that doesn't exist: one for broken hearts."

The Pew Center reports that just 51 percent of all adults in the U.S. -- a record low -- now live in wedlock. The median age at your first marriage has reached all-time highs for both brides (26.5) and grooms (28.7).

The Pew study did not attempt to determine why marriage patterns are changing. Researchers say they are uncertain whether young adults have given up on marriage or merely are postponing the commitment. Although just over half of the adult U.S. population is married, 72 percent have been married at least once. That "once married" figure marks a 13 percent drop from 1960, however. In a separate 2010 Pew survey, nearly four out of 10 respondents said marriage was becoming obsolete.

Will fewer marriages lead to more insurance sales?

Some insurance professionals say the trend toward remaining single could actually lead people to spend more money on insurance policies. If future households lack the ability to pool two incomes to weather financial setbacks, having adequate health, auto, home and life insurance becomes more important.

"You probably can make the case that you would sell more insurance if the people are not married," says Ron Reitz, a public insurance adjuster based in San Diego and first vice president of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. "Let's take autos. Normally you would include members of a household [in a single policy]. If the people are not living together, they would probably need separate policies."

According to Emily Kessler, a fellow of the Society of Actuaries in Schaumburg, Ill., if you are single with children and can't rely on the income of a spouse or domestic partner, the need for life insurance to protect your offspring increases. If you become the head of a one-income family, you'll also have a greater need to insure yourself against physical disabilities, she adds. Having long-term care insurance becomes more critical if you have no one you can count on to share expenses as you age.

Marriage may be going out of fashion, but don't let that spoil your Valentine's Day. Love endures, insists psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of "A Happy You," a book about finding true happiness. She attributes the decline in marriage on improved economic equality between the sexes. With higher wages, many women no longer feel a need to be married to be economically secure.

"A couple of generations ago that wasn't the case," she adds.

An historic shift

Margaret J. King, director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis in Philadelphia, has a slightly different take on the situation. She says America's transition from an agricultural society to an urban one over the last century is partially responsible for the decline of marriage. Cities are more expensive to live in than small towns, leading many couples to limit the number of children they have or to remain childless. When there are no children in a relationship, there is less reason to formalize it with marriage, she adds.

King holds that the concept of marriage in some ways conflicts with American ideals of independence and freedom.

"Americans always have been individualistic," King says. "The minute you hook up with someone else, you compromise. You get the strength of two people and complimentary minds, [but] it's a much more complex situation. If you are single you can make alliances all you want, but you are your own master. You can decide to move to Bangkok tomorrow."

The good old days

Debra Newman, chair of the nonprofit Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), fondly recalls the days when gender roles were more clearly defined and marriage was more popular. She worries that unmarried couples may not make take their obligations to provide for their partners and offspring as seriously when it comes to buying life insurance policies. She uses her own family to illustrate her point.

"When is it that you magically feel a commitment and responsibility to a person?" Newman asks. "My son is 30. He has lived with his girlfriend for three years. On his life insurance, guess who is the beneficiary?"

In this case, Cupid's bow misfired. Instead of putting his girlfriend on the policy, Newman's son made his parents the beneficiaries. "It hasn't hit that he is financially committed to her."

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