From 1990 to 2010, the divorce rate of Americans 50 years old and older increased by 150%. As reflected by U.S. Census data, in 1990 only 10% of divorces involved one or more of the parties being at least 50 years old. By 2010 that number had increased to 25%. Older Americans are now deciding to divorce at an alarming rate. The causes and consequences of this trend have been the subject of several studies.
For example, a study by the Pew Research Center asked study participants whether they would prefer to stay in a bad marriage or get divorced. Of those under the age of 50, 44% responded they would choose divorce, while 56% would be willing to remain in the bad marriage. Compare this to the responses from those 50 years of age and older: 66% said they would divorce, and only 34% were willing to stay in a bad marriage.
This same survey also indicated there was a big difference between older and younger Americans’ belief of the purpose of marriage. The majority of surveyed participants over the age of 50 believed the purpose of marriage was to seek happiness, while those under 50 believe the primary purpose of marriage was to raise a family.
Financial Difficulties Caused by Grey Divorces
Grey divorces cause significant complications for the parties financially. The primary problem is upon divorce you are taking the nest egg, that was intended to support both parties into the future, and splitting it into two. In all likelihood, the combined expenses of the parties post-divorce will be significantly higher than when the couple resided together. Most people in this segment of the population are either at or near retirement age, thus minimizing the amount of time they have to financially recover from the divorce. This can cause significant financial hardship in the future and require a substantial amount of “downsizing” of their respective lifestyles.
Other Ramifications of This Trend
Sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin conducted a study and published a paper on baby boomers of varying marital status (married, divorced, or never married) and how their marital status seemed to impact their finances, health, and social lives. The findings were rather troubling for grey divorcees. Overall, they found divorced baby boomers faced many more difficulties than their married counterparts in nearly all aspects of their lives. As one example, divorced baby boomers were far less likely to have health insurance than their married counterparts.
Another significant effect of grey divorce is the somewhat surprising impact it has on the relationships with the parties’ adult children. Sociologist Jolene Loucks Greenwood conducted research to determine the effects of mid- to late-life divorce on the adult children of the divorcing parties. Over 50% of the adult children indicated, since the time of divorce, their relationship with at least one of their parents had worsened to the point of describing the relationship as “negative.”
The evidence is clear of the increasing trend of grey divorces, as well as the multitude of problems that seem to go along with it. While there is no evidence indicating that the trend will reverse itself anytime soon, a baby boomer who is contemplating divorce would be wise to consider all the potential implications of the divorce before proceeding.
About the Author
Scott Morgan has practiced family law in Texas since 1994. He is certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and is the founder of the Morgan Law Firm, which has offices in Houston, Austin and Sugar Land.