Can you afford a divorce? Think ahead.

Our octogenarian English cousins met us in London for a theatre date.

Our octogenarian English cousins met us in London for a theatre date.

One of my great joys upon getting a divorce 43 years ago was to open my own bank account. I had control. I didn’t even have a job, at first.

 A few weeks ago I caught myself reflecting on my naiveté. I wrote to a friend in London:

 “It has been a revelation to us to see our English cousins thriving in their eighties when they started out so poor. They are in better financial health than they ever have been, though he was a branch sales manager of an insurance company and she was a secretary (after the children were in school). None of their five children went to university, however. One who went into the Army did super-well and is working in retirement. Two other boys get along. The two girls, especially the divorced one, are relatively poor. They get benefits that our uneducated and unmarried young do not get, like help with housing.”

 As an afterthought, I added:

 “There is no doubt in my mind — in addition to our “get-rich and spend” brand of individualism — that a leading factor to our slippage is divorce. People who stay married generally can educate their kids.”

 I educated my three children on the good luck that their father was a member of a university faculty that had free tuition as a benefit. Otherwise, they would have had to go to a community college at a lower cost and probably work during the school year, not just summers. Or I would have had to ask my parents to help. Lucky, too, I had parents who could help.

That was 35 years ago. Today’s middle class single moms might make more money, but not nearly enough to match the soaring tuition costs at most schools, even public universities, without borrowing. We’ve had huge slippage, and it is trickling down now to the children, especially if they have had divorces, too.

I understand that English students still have barriers to higher education and one is debt. And there still is an attitude that some universities are for the elite. But I know something else about the English system. At present – and I emphasize the temporary – old age is very, very good for a family that has worked at all. The main benefit is free health care for everyone, which means less worry, and less self-neglect, both of which lead to debilitating age-related problems. That means there is less worry for the children of elders.

 Secondly, and way ahead of the American Dream, is that “pensioners,” as they are called, are encouraged to get out and about. Bus passes are free, train prices are reduced, entry to concerts and exhibitions also. Chances of isolation and loneliness are reduced. One might get a walker or wheelchair at no cost, and escape with a little help or without help at all if there is an elevator in the building.

Old Age pensioner enjoying London's V&A Museum.

Old Age pensioner enjoying London’s V&A Museum.

 Look around your neighborhood in the United States. How many elderly women living alone do you know? Who is a widow, and who is divorced?  Which of them has “lifestyle choices”?  How are their children able to help them out?

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