Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution…The Gray Divorce

the-gray-divorceYou have probably heard the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world.

An estimated 45% of marriages are expected to end in divorce. We’ve seen this up close through our 15-year-old son’s friends, who are only available to “hang out” on alternate weekends and often spend holidays away from their school and neighborhood friends. But, these are a younger generation of parents than we are – most are in their late 30s or early 40s.

Another sweeping change the baby boom generation instigated are large numbers of divorces among young couples. Now, it seems, those aging upstarts are starting yet another revolution, the “Gray Divorce.” Sociologist Susan L. Brown, of Bowling Green State University, found divorce rates doubled among Americans over 50 years old between 1990 and 2010. Her findings, published in 2012 in the Journal of Gerontology, are widely discussed in the mainstream press.

Other findings:

•Around 1 in 4 divorces in 2010 involved people 50 years and older; that’s over 600,000 divorced people. After 65, the divorce rate rose to 1 in 10.
•Over half of gray divorces are between couples married over 20 years.
•People 50 and over are the most likely to be either divorced, currently divorced, or married at least twice.
•Women most often initiate the divorce; 66 percent of women responding to AARP The Magazine’s 2004 midlife divorce study said they initiated the end of their long-term marriage.

Why Now?

Sociologists aren’t sure why record numbers of long-term first marrieds are divorcing at unprecedented rates, but speculate the greater independence among baby boomer women may account for some of it, as does the general acceptance of divorce. Several couples cited the loss of shared interests once the children are grown and raised. Brown also thinks longer life spans contribute to the decision to divorce. Still in good health at 50 or beyond, many realize they could live at least 20 more years and decide they would rather do it alone or with someone else.

Some of the caveats of gray divorce, particularly for women include the loss of wealth and a greater chance of living out the rest of their lives in poverty. Studies show divorced Americans have at least 20 percent less wealth than older married couples, while the widowed have twice the financial resources of the gray divorced. Those with deeper pockets are better prepared to both enjoy and pay for long-term care often necessitated by longer life expectancies. While the effects of aging divorce are not well known, researchers suggest the upward trend may significantly strain societal resources and family relationships, as more care facilities (and staff) are needed to provide for this population and/or adult children are increasingly called upon to care for their divorced parents.

Stayin’ Alive!

Don’t despair, it’s not all bad news. There’s plenty of evidence and advice out there supporting long-term relationships. While some of it is trite and repetitive, some tried-and-true items are worth re-examining. For instance, a survey of 700 long-term married couples published in the popular book, 30 Lessons for Living by Karl Pillemer, finds it’s the small stuff that can make or break a loving relationship. So, make it a habit to do something nice for your spouse, if you want to retain them.

Other suggestions: stop trying to change the other, have a sense of humor, and give compliments. If you are raising children, make time for one another and for yourself, keep talking to one another.

My favorites: don’t argue on an empty stomach and swallow your anger, then let it go. Expect change and try to “roll with it.”

So, I guess I will make some dinner this evening while my husband mows the lawn. Maybe, he’ll tell me he likes it after I thank him for doing it.

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About This Blogger

Kathy Stump

Kathy Stump writes from her home in Parkville, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City. For the last two decades, she’s been raising two children, freelance writing, proofreading, and tutoring young readers. Local and regional magazines feature her articles on travel, historic sites, nutrition, and parenting. She’s also reviewed books for Kirkus Reviews and written academic essays for Anaxos, Inc. Reading, walking, and yoga are her favorite pastimes. In her previous life (before kids), Ms. Stump was a museum curator. She studied art history and historic preservation at Mary Washington University and holds a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies and American Civilization from George Washington University.

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