The shift is changing the traditional portrait of older Americans: About a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 1970, according to an analysis of recently released census data conducted by demographers at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.

Sociologists expect those numbers to rise sharply in coming decades as younger people, who have far lower rates of marriage than their elders, move into middle age. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State, said the trend would transform the lives of many older people.

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Robert Dellaert, 55, who moved to Florida from California to be closer to his mother after he and his wife split, started a seaplane tourism business once he got used to life on his own. In 2010, about 12 percent of unmarried adults ages 50 through 64 were living together but not married, up from 7 percent in 2000, census data show.

He also met and moved in with his current girlfriend. “Making a new start really gave me a lot of joy,” he said.

And many baby boomers, who came of age during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, feel less social pressure to marry or stay married than their parents and grandparents did.

(Only about 17 percent of adults over 64 in 2010 were divorced, separated or had never been married, census data show.) Being divorced or single later in life also no longer carries the stigma that it did for previous generations.

People are living longer, and many couples in their 50s and 60s — faced with the prospect of a decade or more in unhappy marriages — are reluctant to stay the course.

Women, who are increasingly financially independent, are more willing and able to go it alone.The research was published online in The Gerontologist.“Now we actually need to pay attention to it, not only to the factors that precipitate it, but also to the consequences,” Dr. The surge in the number of older, unmarried Americans has been driven by several factors, including longevity, economics and evolving social mores, according to sociologists.“I think about that every day: one day very soon that may be me in a walker.But for right now, I just kind of tamp down the screaming voices inside of me.Whatever happens is going to happen.” Laura Stillman, 62, a sales manager at a television station in Raleigh, N.