It has been called many things… ‘gray divorce’ or ‘silver splitter’ are among the newer terms….…and now marriage experts around the world are talking about the rising divorce rate among people over 65. These are not the Baby Boomers, but rather that generation which just preceded it and is now retired or almost there.
A researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio discovered that the divorce rate among men over 65 doubled in the past 10 years, and among women of the same age, it tripled. So what happened?
There are lots of theories, but here is one: divorce has lost some of the stigma that it had in our parents’ generation, and in addition, women are realizing that they are no longer required to stay married to have financial security. Many couples in long marriages find that they have quietly drifted apart over the years, following different paths yet staying married for financial, religious and family reasons.
Today, most states have some version of “no fault” divorce and there are many laws now that provide for an equitable distribution of assets. This is different from 50 years ago when women are often left without financial support. Some states also require that military and corporate pensions are part of community property and that means spouses share in the income from those, whether they stay together or not.
What is interesting from a generational perspective is that these splits do not fit into a stereotypical category of midlife crisis or looking for a younger partner. Instead, it is a matter of people drifting apart and realizing that they may have 20 or 30 years ahead of them, so why be miserable!
Ine finding is that many of these late divorces are among couples who remarried in midlife, not just those still in their original marriage. For people over 65, the rate of divorces from remarriage is three times greater than for those leaving a first marriage. Reasons for this vary, but some assume it is because those who divorced at least once know that life goes on and that they can adjust, while those who have never divorced still have fears of going it alone.
By the way, this is not just an American phenomenon. The British Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently reported that many couples there are reconsidering whether or not they want to stay together as they age. This study by the ONS concluded that while in the past, women were more likely to seek divorces, today, older women and men are seeking divorces in equal numbers.
The American and British studies remind us that people are living longer and healthier and that both men and women are feeling less willing to compromise or settle as they age. Men, they say, feel that retirement has freed them from the responsibilities of work and supporting a family, and ongoing conflicts in the marriage that had been overlooked because of family responsibilities now need to be confronted.
Both studies suggest that even when divorced, older people need to understand the emotional issues involved. A social support network for both genders is the key to emotional happiness, especially as we age.