The website DivorceAfter50.com reports that nearly a quarter of all divorces today are among adults aged 50+. That number has doubled from what it was just 20 years ago. This phenomenon is being called “gray divorce.” The stigmas that forced previous generations to stay together are giving way to the narrative that allows individuals to be happy, even if it is outside of matrimony. There’s also the unfortunate reality that senior finances and marriage don’t always align, requiring divorce in some cases. Understanding the reasons behind senior citizen divorce trends is especially important as divorce rates are expected to grow as Boomers continue to age.
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Reason #1: Changed Attitudes Towards Divorce
Generally, marriages are most vulnerable during years 7-10. So why the sudden uptick in divorce after 50 amongst couples that are decades into a marriage? According to Pepper Schwartz of CNN, the current group of seniors are, unlike their parents, “ready to walk if things aren’t up to their hopes, dreams or delusions about marriage.” With adult children, the pressures to stay in it for the kids are gone.
Divorcing as a senior does not mean finding love again is out of the question. As Schwartz reported seniors are “passionately engaged with life, sexually vibrant (particularly with the help of new medical interventions) and regard their 50s and 60s as every bit the opportunity for love and sexual attraction that their 20s and 30s were.”
Reason #2: Financial Issues and Elder Care
As we plan put in place responsible financial plans for the future during middle age, we probably don’t consider how our retirement planning can impact our marriage status. Some adults are finding that because of pensions and earnings, they are having to make a choice between affording elder care for themselves and their spouse and staying married.
In one such example, a Canadian man, Jerry Clarke, may have to consider ending his marriage so that his wife’s income-based nursing home expenses won’t be higher based on his pension — and what is also viewed as “her” income since they are married. Divorce is hardly what he wants, but it feels that that is the only way to get his monthly expenses down and make sure both he and his wife receive the care they need at a cost they can afford.
Reason #3: Irreconcilable Differences
In addition to divorces caused by senior care expenses, seniors are also divorcing for the more common reason of irreconcilable differences. At this stage in life, some seniors are motivated by the possibility of pursuing life ventures that their spouses may not share and feel divorce will allow them to do such things.
Another interesting note about senior divorce is that women in the senior community are feeling more empowered to leave relationships that aren’t working. About 66% of these later in life divorces are initiated by women. One theory is that the sexist norms of the past that were more accepting of male verbal or emotional abuse, are now dismissed allowing women the ability to move on from such a relationship.
When it comes to divorce, older couples should be thoughtful and do what they feel is right. As loved ones of the couple we should remember how difficult the process is at any age and offer support to those going through such an impactful life change.