Older adults are currently the most at risk of divorce in the United States. When evaluating those adults who have gotten married at some point, individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 experience a roughly 43% rate of divorce. Looking at all adults over the age of 20 who have ever married, roughly 34% of women and 33% of men reported a prior divorce.
In other words, there is a roughly 10% difference between the population in general and adults over the age of 50 who are preparing for retirement or are already retired. Why have gray divorces become a more common occurrence?
Longer life expectancy
120 years ago, women could expect to live for 51 years on average, while men would live for roughly 48 years. As of 2000, women have a life expectancy of 80, while men may live to 74 on average. Recognizing that someone has two full decades of retirement ahead of them can be reason for people to make an exit from an unhappy relationship.
Greater financial independence
Women in their 50s and 60s currently may have pursued advanced educations and careers that make them feel confident about living independently after divorce.
A greater focus on major marital events
People were once under pressure to ignore the misconduct of spouses. That has shifted drastically in most communities, and people now feel empowered to leave after negative marital events. Issues that may trigger a divorce after decades of marriage include:
- a sudden change in politics
- a massive shift in health
- conversion to a new religion
- extramarital infidelity
- uncovering hidden debts
- learning about an addiction
People now expect their spouses to improve their behavior or leave when problems persist.
Decreased social stigma
Decades ago, older adults would have likely feared rocking the boat with their social support network by filing for divorce. A reduction in overall social stigma makes it easier for people to feel comfortable about ending their marriages without damaging their reputation and access to support as they age.
Changing relationship expectations
People now expect more from their spouses than they may have in the past. Commitment and cohabitation often aren’t enough. They want shared values and mutual sharing of responsibilities. If someone has long endured of partnership with a spouse who does not bring joy to their life, then they may feel like their best chance at happiness could come from living on their own and their golden years.
Learning more about why gray divorces are more common and what challenges they may inspire can help people who are thinking about the end of a marriage more effectively protect themselves from the challenges and risks of divorce.