According to the Wall Street Journal, the divorce rate for those ages 50 and older is twice that of what it was 20 years ago. Research performed by sociologists of Bowling Green State University suggests that the overall divorce rates in the U.S. have declined; however, the “gray divorce” has escalated to its highest point. The research draws from statistics from the 1990 U.S. Vital Statistics Report and 2009 American Community Survey.
The “gray divorce” refers to this growing trend of people pursuing divorce after age 50. A detailed analysis of data from Bowling Green State University scholars has found that in 1990, only 10 percent of those who divorced were 50 or older; yet, by 2009, that number jumped to 25 percent. In fact, in 2009, 600,000 people that were 50 and older ended their marriages.
Interestingly enough, a survey conducted by AARP in 2004 notes that infidelity is not the reason for the gray divorce. So what is the cause of this movement? Research attributes the gray divorce to a few important issues:
Parental duties are complete: Individuals are making the move once their nests are empty. After parents fulfill their parental duties, they want out.
Sociologists note that the boomers entered marriage with renewed expectations, which differed from prior generations. According to one scholar, “In the 1970s, there was, for the first time, a focus on marriage needing to make individuals happy, rather than on how well each individual fulfilled their marital roles.”
This transition in philosophy has made marriage more about self-fulfillment. Before the 1970s, few Americans distinguished the self from the roles of being a good wife, husband, mother or father. Now relationships are different. As boomers hit 50 and realize that the children are gone, they are pursuing other avenues of fulfillment in life – some that go behind a relationship.
A longer lifespan = more time for future endeavors: Another explanation is that Americans are living longer. In the past, death beat divorce. Now, individuals are actually living to experience the 30-year itch. Moreover, once the children are gone and the home is empty, this might trigger the urge to pursue other life endeavors. The clock is still ticking, and since people have extra time on their hands, they would rather make the most of life and move on before time expires.
Complex marriages: Moreover, this generation is unique in that many boomers have been married more than once. The Wall Street Journal notes that 53 percent of those over the age of 50 getting divorced today have been married and divorced before. Moreover, having been married once before increases the risk of subsequent dissolutions for those ages 50 through 64, according to sociologists. Also, for ages 65 and older, the risk of divorce quadruples.
These are just a few of the reasons for an increasing rate of divorce for those 50 and older. This evolution seems to say a lot about the view of marriage and its purpose from the boomers’ perspective. If you, too, are reaching your marital itch, take the time to speak with a qualified divorce attorney. While you may have never anticipated divorce so late in life, you may be one of the many boomers ready for a change.