Grey divorce: a phenomenon beginning in the mid-1980s, referring to the increasing rate of divorce among Baby Boomers’ long-term marriages. While the divorce rate for the United States has largely remained the same, it has doubled for individuals over 50 years old. Today, one in four divorces occur among couples of that age.
While researchers do not yet have concrete evidence for this new rate, a few potential explanations have emerged:
- Better health and life expectancy. Longer life expectancy means lengthened exposure to factors that may lead to divorce. Statistically, individuals over 50 still have a great deal of time to explore life. Many go back to school, make significant changes in their career, and, ultimately, find they have the time and ability to discover what they want and need in a partner.
- Lower stigma surrounding divorce. Our culture has seen a gradual shift in values. Today, we place greater emphasis on love, compatibility, individualism, and personal fulfillment, rather than on financial security or societal expectations. In Grey divorce, both spouses have likely been unhappy for decades. The power of this attitude is also suggested by the higher rate of divorce in individuals who have had previous marriages or are children of separated parents. These individuals likely see divorce as a solution rather than a tragedy to be avoided at all costs.
- Financial factors. Data suggests that the risk of divorce increases when the wife’s income increases. Due to the closing gender pay gap, more women have achieved the economic autonomy needed to support themselves and end unhappy marriages. Conversely, some researchers point to a couple’s financial security as a protective factor against divorce. This may be associated with the fact that financial struggle is a leading cause of marital strife. When a couple retires, for example, Social Security may be much less than a couple’s income during prime earning years. Poor spending habits may become more apparent and pose problems to the couple’s security and general wellbeing.
- The challenge of adjusting to empty nests. Couples often realize they have grown apart once their children move out. With the sudden availability of time and energy they would have otherwise devoted to their kids, they find they are no longer romantically invested in their partner. They may also have very different ideas of how to cope with this change of lifestyle. One partner may want to move, find a new career, or travel, while another may want to take advantage of the free time and relax at home.
- Change of lifestyle due to declining health. As a couple gets older, one partner may become significantly less active than the other. Reaching a new stage of life can catalyze or reveal drastically different lifestyles or mindsets, triggering a shift toward incompatibility and even a build-up of resentment.
While many of the reasons older couples get divorced overlap with the reasons younger couples do, these explanations shed light on the nuances of the Grey divorce phenomenon.
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