Even though many studies show that divorce rates among some younger generations have leveled off or slightly decrease, divorce rates among Baby Boomers, and, generally, couples in their 50s, have shown a dramatic increase for the last several decades. Researchers at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) coined this phenomenon “gray divorce” and sought to understand why it was happening.
While every divorce is unique, there are certain factors that impact elderly married couples more dramatically than their younger counterparts. The trend of gray divorce will likely continue to expand to other generations as many Gen Xers are now reaching and surpassing the 50-year mark as well.
- Financial considerations: Half a century ago, couples would come together with clearly defined roles. Perhaps stereotypically, the husband would be the primary breadwinner and the wife would stay home with the children. In recent decades, however, a financial shift has taken place. Now, many couples both have careers and could build a financially independent future. The threat of financial devastating is no longer a driving consideration in whether or not to divorce.
- Postponed divorces: It is not uncommon for couples to maintain a relationship for the benefit of those around them. Once the children have grown and live their own independent lives, the elderly parents can now finally discuss what is right for their own futures. Clearly, some couples feel their best future involves the dissolution of the marriage.
- Reduction in stigma: A century ago, and, perhaps, longer than that, couples truly married under the promise of “til death do us part.” The sanctity of marriage was protected above other personal concerns. As such, there was a societal stigma attached to divorce. The community shunned individuals as blame was quickly assigned to one partner over the other. In recent decades, however, society has become more accepting of individuals who decide to end a bad situation. Further, there is greater recognition that some couples simply grow apart without the necessity of assigning blame.
With longer life expectancies and the greater chance of financial stability for both parties, the possibility of older couples getting a divorce is a distinct reality. All indications point to this trend continuing as younger generations grow older and the stigma surrounding the divorce process further evaporates.