Bill and Melinda Gates. Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus. Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott. While celebrity news does not always mirror statistics, divorce among people over the age of 50 – so-called “gray divorce” – is on the rise.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau study done in 2016, among adults aged 20 and over that had been married, 34 percent of women and 33 percent of men had been through a divorce. The percentage of those surveyed who had been divorced was highest for adults aged 55 to 64. They found that in 2014, 33.7 percent of women surveyed had been divorced, but the breakdown by age may be surprising: 7.1 percent of women aged 20 to 24; 13.4 percent of women aged 25 to 29; 22.3 percent of women aged 30 to 34; 30.8 percent of women aged 35to 44; 41.6 percent of women aged 45 to 54; 42.6 percent of women aged 54 to 65; 38.5 percent of women aged 65 to 74; and 24 percent of women aged 75 and older had been divorced. For men, the statistics were similar: 6.2 percent of men aged 20 to 24; 10.1 percent of men aged 25-29; 15.9 percent of men aged 30 to 34; 27.4 percent of men aged 35 to 44; 27.4 percent of men aged 45 to 54; 42.5 percent of men aged 55 to 64; 38.6 percent of men aged 65 to 74; and 24.4 percent of men aged 75 and older had been divorced.
What is the proverbial “danger zone” for divorce? The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the typical U.S. marriage that ends in divorce lasts approximately eight years. Among couples aged 50 and over, however, the divorce rate has doubled over the last 20 years, according to the Pew Research Center. As of 2015, for every 1,000 married individuals aged over 50, ten of them divorced, which is double the five out of 1,000 in 1990.
For individuals over age 65, the increase is even more stark, as the divorce rate has actually tripled for this group of individuals since 1990. Interestingly, the divorce rate for those aged 25 to 39 has actually decreased, likely due to waiting longer to get married.
While it may seem surprising that older people are getting divorced so often, it is not as surprising when taken in context with the Baby Boomer generation. During their young adult years, Baby Boomers had what Pew Research Center calls “unprecedented” levels of divorce. Many of the individuals of this generation who married and divorced when they were younger subsequently remarried, and remarriages are more prone to divorce than first marriages. In fact, 48 percent of adults over age 50 who divorced in 2015 had been in their second, third, or subsequent marriage.
Studies show that adults aged 50 and over were more likely to divorce if they had been married for less than ten years – though about one-third of adults in this group who divorced in 2014 had been married for at least 30 years.
Divorce in later stages of life can have some negative implications. Divorcees over 50 tend to be less financially secure than their married counterparts – especially women. There is also some research indicating that living alone in later years can have negative implications for health and well-being.
Why, then, are divorces for people over 50 on the rise? One factor at play is longer life expectancy. Pursuant to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1960 and 2015, average life expectancy for residents of the United States increased by around ten years, from around 70 years old to around 80 years old. It is predicted that by 2060, that number may increase to 85 years old. Longer lives mean longer marriages, and may also lead individuals in their 50’s and 60’s to leave unhappy marriages, as those individuals may still have several decades of years left. There is also the tendency for some married couples with children to wait until those children graduate from high school and move out to divorce.
As stated, another reason why divorce rates are increasing for those over 50 is because many individuals in this age group are in their second or third marriage. Unfortunately, subsequent marriages have higher divorce rates – about two and a half times higher, to be precise.
Finally, the stigma around divorce is not the same as it used to be, particularly for women. There has been some research to suggest that individuals who have friends who are divorced are more likely to divorce themselves. While, in the past, it may have only been societally acceptable to leave a spouse after an affair or abuse, and while plenty of people still leave marriages for these reasons, there is more of an emphasis on happiness and satisfaction of late. Individuals who may have been ostracized for leaving a marriage that is not miserable but is also simply not working in the past, but that is less likely now.
Psychologist John Duffy has made similar findings, which he reported in an article for CNN. He argues that if people are divorcing after 20 or 30 years of marriage, the culprit likely is not just simply “incompatibility,” but more of a conscious choice by one or both spouses to make major changes in their life. He found that men tend to leave marriages at this time to pursue a new relationship, or to become more involved in an extramarital relationship in which they were already involved. Women, he reported, usually leave to “change their lives,” citing a lack of energy in their current partner and a desire for “new careers, new adventures and new opportunities.”
While divorce rates may be up for older individuals, the overall divorce rate in the United states has actually been gradually decreasing, from 22.6 divorces per every 1,000 married individuals in 1980 to 14.9 divorces per every 1,000 married individuals in 2019.
If you are an individual over 50 who has been served with a divorce complaint, or who is considering filing for divorce, it is important to know your legal rights and obligations. An experienced family law attorney can give you valuable advice and help guide you through the process.