Gray Divorces: Divorcing after 50

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Thursday, October 24, 2013.

So much for “till death do us part.” While the overall divorce rate has gone down, it’s doubled for couples over age 50. For the first time, more Americans 50 and older are divorced rather than widowed. Sociologists call them gray divorces.

In 1990, less than 3% of Americans older than 50 were divorced. By 2000, about 12% were. According to the latest Census Bureau’s estimate in the American Community Survey, in 2011 over 15% were divorced, while 13.5% were widowed.

In 1990, 1 in 10 persons who divorced was 50 or older. By 2011, according to the American Community Survey, more than 28 percent (more than 1 in 4) who said they divorced in the previous 12 months were 50 or older.

As the New York Times reports:

Researchers at Bowling Green warn that the rising divorce rate among older Americans has serious implications that go well beyond the couples themselves. Like widowhood, divorce can contribute to economic strain and poor health, placing a larger burden on children and, given shrinking family size, on institutional support from government and other sources.

“Staying together until death do us part is a bigger challenge than it used to be because we expect so much more of marriage than we did in the past, and we have so many more options when a marriage doesn’t live up to those expectations.

Think about it from this perspective:

“If you are a healthy 65, you can expect another pretty healthy 20 years. So with the kids gone, it seems more burdensome to stay in a bad relationship, or even one that has grown stale.”

Are women to blame:

Women have long been more sensitive to – or less tolerant of – a mediocre relationship than men and so another big factor is that with their increased work experience and greater sense of their own possibilities, they are less willing to just ‘wait it out.

What about the men?:

“Viagra is another reason – men are able to satisfy younger women. And people are living longer and they can get out and still have a life.”

Several other factors may be to blame, including:

  • Societal acceptance of divorce
  • Increased economic autonomy of women
  • Lengthening life expectancies
  • Less education is big risk factor
  • Shorter marriages less than 10 years.

Nonetheless, they say that if the rate remains constant, we can expect a 25 percent increase in the number of people that will experience divorce among Americans 50 and older.

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