The rise of gray divorce in America’s fifty plus population

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The phenomenon of later in life divorce, often dubbed gray divorce, continues its ascent.  As the population ages, it will become even more common.

It’s not just the number of older people, however.  The divorce rate among U.S. adults ages fifty and older doubled in the last three decades.


Climbing divorce rates

A study by the Pew Research Center outlined the divorce rates in people ages 50 and older. The study found that for every 1,000 persons, ten of the people divorced. In 1990 the number of persons divorcing was five. For those ages 65 and older, the rate tripled from two to six people per 1,000 married persons. However, the risk of divorce rates is not evenly spread among all adults over 50 and certain demographics face a higher divorce risk.

Prevalence of marital instability

Baby boomers divorced at an unprecedented rate in young adulthood. The sharp rise in divorce rates for adults 5o and older is largely attributed to the aging population of baby boomers married multiple times. The pattern of marital instability that started in the 1970s continues with the same generation divorcing and remarrying later in life.

Statistically, remarriages are not as stable as first marriages. Marriages of short duration and second or higher marriages increase the possibility of gray divorce. The divorce rate for those in a first marriage is less than half that rate of divorce for remarried adults.

Concerns with later in life divorce

Divorce on the brink of retirement poses challenges even in marriages where both partners worked. Statistically, those who divorce at older ages only have one-fifth of the assets of married couples in the same age bracket. Gray divorcees, particularly women, tend to be less financially secure than married or widowed adults. These women tend to face higher poverty rates and collect a relatively small social security amount, often resulting from taking time off work for child-rearing.

A reduced stigma of divorce and desire for greater life satisfaction are both attributed to the cultural shift. Gray divorcees seek increased independence and the opportunity to pursue their own interests to liver a fuller life. However, living alone at older ages poses financial difficulties, and those considering divorce should fully understand the financial liabilities before ending a marriage.