The Rising Phenomenon Known as Gray Divorce

While statistics show that keeping a marriage together until “death do us part” isn’t easy, a surprising demographic group of people is divorcing at a higher rate than ever before. For the first time, more older adults are divorced than widowed. Researchers are calling this trend “The Gray Divorce Revolution.

Today nearly 1 in 4 divorcees are baby boomers. A study from Bowling Green State University in Ohio revealed that adults over the age of 50 are twice as likely to divorce as they were less than twenty years ago.

What is Behind the Rising Number of Gray Divorces?

The grey divorce phenomenon is linked to a number of factors. Researchers say the most common ones include:

  • Longer life expectancy. Boomers are living longer lives. Because they are healthier and more active than past generations of retirees, they have different expectations for married life in older age. They are more willing to divorce and remarry in an effort to find greater happiness in later years.
  • Financial independence for women. Because many female baby boomers worked outside the home, they feel a greater sense of financial independence. This makes them less likely to stay in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons.
  • Couples grow apart. Research also shows that many couples who go through a late-life divorce do so simply because they have grown apart and wish to go their separate ways.

Which Seniors are at Higher Risk for a Divorce ?

Two of the leading experts on gray divorce are sociologists Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin. Their research shows that not all couples are at equal risk for divorce. Brown and Lin have identified four key predictors that put couples at increased risk:

  1. Length of marriage. More than half of the late life divorces occur in couples who are in their first marriage and that marriage has lasted more than 20 years.
  2. Women initiate more divorces. In 66% of cases, older women were the ones to initiate a divorce.
  3. Education level. Seniors who are college educated have the lowest chance of getting divorced. Researchers believe this is because education tends to increase earnings and relieve financial strain. Money disputes are a leading cause of divorce for people of all ages.
  4. Race plays a role. Another curious trend researchers found was that African American and Hispanic couples are more likely to divorce in retirement than Caucasian couples.

The Economic Effect of a Senior Divorce

Finally, there is the economic effect a senior divorce creates. Researchers warn that a late life divorce can have a devastating impact on a couple’s financial situation.

Couples typically have to divide pensions, split up 401k plans, and liquidate other investments and assets. A grey divorce often means selling the family home, as well. It all comes at a time when most adults have retired or cut back on the hours they work. This makes it difficult to recover their financial position.

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