The Increase in Gray Divorce

When Al and Tipper Gore made the announcement in 2010 that they were separating after 40 years of marriage, most people were shocked. The parents of four grown children, the couple seemingly had a close, solid, and loving relationship. Like most marriages, they certainly had their share of challenges including the 1989 injury of their son in a car accident and going through a contentious 2000 presidential election and controversial recount vote.

This high-profile pair is part of a phenomenon called gray divorce – a term used to describe older couples who separate or divorce after being in a long-term marriage. The good news is that overall the divorce rate has declined in the U.S. This is due to younger age groups who are living together, marrying later, and staying married.

However, since 1990 the divorce rate has doubled for married couples who are age 50 and older and has more than doubled for married people who are 65 years and older. This is regardless of whether the couples have a high school diploma or a college degree, according to researchers at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Reasons for a Gray Divorce

According to a 2015 Pew Research report, Baby Boomers are driving the increase in rising divorce rates among older Americans. Many members of this generation have already experienced a divorce in their 20s or early 30s and now may be more willing to divorce again in their later years. Other reasons for couples deciding to call it quits after decades together are varied. Of course, only two people know the true cause for the end of a marriage but psychologists point to other factors which may contribute to a gray divorce:

  • Growing apart. After years of working, raising children, and pursuing their own hobbies, interests, and friends, many couples simply grow apart and have nothing in common after children grow up and leave the nest. It is essential for couples, especially older adults who no longer have young children to raise, to have shared goals and common interests to keep a marriage working and healthy.
  • Better health and longer life expectancies. According to data from the Social Security Administration, if a man reaches the age of 65 today he can expect to live until about 84. A woman who turns 65 today will live, on average, until almost 87. Many people in their late 50s and early 60s may decide if they have another 20, 30, or even 40 years of life left they don’t want to stay in a marriage that no longer brings them fulfillment.
  • Unhappy wife.  Women initiate 69% of all divorce filings. This is because women are less prone to tolerate difficulties in a relationship compared to men. Furthermore, after years of taking care of everyone else in the family, some women, especially those in older generations, want to have time to focus on themselves.
  • Retirement. Major life transitions, at any age, are difficult and retirement is one which can be a divorce trigger. When couples marry in their 20s they almost never talk about their plans for their later years together. Then retirement happens and a couple’s goals may be different from one another. At least 5 to 10 years before retirement, talk with your spouse on how you view tackling this life event. Cover a range of topics such as: where to live, should you downsize the home, traveling, and finances.
  • Aging. As we age, it can be difficult for some people to face increasing illness and failing body parts–not only in themselves but in their spouses as well. In an effort to recapture a lost youth and vitality, many people start focusing on improving themselves physically, meeting new people, and may eventually leave a marriage.



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