While divorce in our country is declining, “gray divorces” are increasing, i.e. divorces among couples ages 50 and older have doubled in the past two decades. “Gray Divorce” refers to those who divorce after age 50. In 2009, over 600,000 people over 50 divorced. According to the Wall Street Journal’s March 3, 2012 edition, this demographic has doubled in the past 20 years. Baby Boomers are breaking up late in life compared to no other generation. In 1990, 1 in 10 of all divorces involved people over 50, while in 2009, it was 1 in 4.
Empty nest couples have found a way to overlook their differences, tolerate emotional distance, and disagreements because they prioritized raising their children in an intact family. Once the children moved out, this living arrangement would come apart and nearly two-thirds of the time women would initiate the breakup.
Contrary to common belief infidelity is not a major factor that accounts for “gray divorces.” Infidelity compares favorably with other age groups as far as the impetus for divorce. In some studies nearly half of all of those over age 50 who got divorced in 2009, were in remarriages, compared to about thirty percent of those who remained married. Further, widespread attitudinal shifts in society suggest that we are much more accepting of divorce today than we were in the past. The United States has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, and as more older adults either experience divorce themselves or see people around them get divorced, it is going to make them more accepting of a divorce. This combined with an observed weakening norm of marriage as a lifelong institution, compared to individual fulfillment and satisfaction has led to more “gray divorces.”
Money still is an issue as older individuals have less time to make up any financial losses. Those over 50 have fewer years to retire debt and experience recovering their portfolios by riding out market fluctuations.
For those who wish to save a family marriage, the Wall Street Journal recently offered advice from a long term study, not yet published by University of Denver researchers. The study found that even if you cannot get your spouse to go into counseling, you should go. This research confirmed that seeking help in relationship skills improves the marriage of those who go alone as much as it does as those who attend as a couple.