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Why is gray divorce becoming more common?

by | Sep 4, 2020 | divorce

The consensus among those who follow divorce statistics is that, as the divorce rate drops among younger people, couples over 50 are turning to it more and more frequently. So-called gray divorce has roughly doubled over the last generation. In 1990, 5 out of every 1,000 married people over 50 divorced that year. By 2015, the number was around 10 out of every 1,000 married people. Within this age group, the rate of people over 65 who divorced almost tripled.

Granted, this is still a lower rate overall than seen among younger generations. For instance, among those 25-39 and in 2015, 24 out of every 1,000 married people divorced, but this represented an over 20% crop since 1990, when the rate for the same age group was 30 out of 1,000. What this means is that it is getting more and more likely for empty nesters to go through a divorce or legal separation near the end of their professional careers.

There are several reasons why this may be the case. For one, the divorce rate has always been especially high among Baby Boomers, even when they were much younger, so the rising trend may reflect generational values. On a related point, many of those going through gray divorces are not in their first marriage; the rate of gray divorce among those in subsequent marriages, particularly if they are shorter, is higher than those who have been in a single and longer-lasting marriage of 30 years or more. Nevertheless, a significant number of these relationships, about 1 in 3, end in a gray divorce as well.

Other experts have pointed to changing social factors. For one, people are generally more likely to live well into their eighties and maintain an active life well after the traditional retirement age of 65. Moreover, because both spouses typically will have had professional careers, they may feel more financially secure in continuing life without their spouse. The social stigma surrounding divorce has also dwindled significantly.

In any event, residents of the Harrisburg area who are facing the prospect of gray divorce will face a different set of issues than a younger couple. For example, child custody is likely not going to be a consideration in a divorce. On the other hand, the division of finances, especially retirement accounts, will be a more important issue.