The New York Times recently reported that for the first time ever, “more Americans 50 and older are divorced than widowed, and the numbers are growing as baby boomers live longer.” Divorces of those over the age of fifty have been termed “gray divorces,” and are considered especially difficult for those involved because the spouses feel especially connected to each other personally and professionally.
The trend of gray divorces is staggering. Consider, only fifty years ago, according to the Census Bureau American Community Survey, only 2.8 Americans older than 50 were divorcing. By 2011, that number increased to 15.4 percent with another 2.1 percent separating. That means the divorce rate has more than doubled. The trend is especially concerning when you consider that the divorce rate for other age groups has stabilized.
What does this mean for the aging population?
Experts also note that gray divorce can be especially damaging. Not only can divorce impact the health of a couple, it also puts an economic strain on each person and can burden the children of the divorced couple. When families lived closer together and had stronger community ties, divorce may have had less of an impact, but not anymore. Now when couple’s divorce if one person cannot support themselves, either physically or financially, the burden will fall to society at large, and the spouse may require institutional support from government and other sources.
Socialists also warn that the notion that couples who were married longer had a greater chance of not divorcing may no longer true. In fact, because many baby boomers have been divorced and are now on their second or third marriages, many are statistically more likely to be divorced again.
Why has the gray divorce rate increased?
There are a variety of reasons why the trend for a gray divorce has increased, but socialists claim the most common reasons are the ease of acquiring a divorce, the decreased social stigma of divorce and the expectations for marriage.
Historically, marriage was likely to be a financial arrangement between two families. Couples had little expectation that marriage was about love or that it would fulfill many emotional needs. Now, we expect more from marriage than we did in the past, and most spouses have more options if the marriage does not last.
Add this to the growing life-expectancy for most individuals and couples may be more willing to throw in the towel rather than live another 20 years in an unhealthy and unfulfilling marriage.
Women generally initiate gray divorce
Experts note, however, one trend that has not changed, even in gray divorce, over the last twenty years: women are more likely to initiate a gray divorce than men. The reasons are very complex, but some experts assert that women have always been less tolerant of a mediocre relationship. Women also have more resources now to live on their own and may be less willing to settle for a relationship which does not offer intimacy, friendship, fun, and passion until the end.
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