Divorced Americans age 50 or older currently outnumber widowed individuals in the same age group for the first time. The American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, reports that more than 15 percent of the population over age 50 are divorced, while about 13.5 percent are widowed. The divorce rates in other age groups seem to have stabilized in over the last few years, but with “gray divorce,” the rate has risen dramatically.
A similar study conducted 50 years ago showed that 2.8 percent of the over 50 group was divorced. By the year 2000, the number had jumped to nearly 12 percent, and was continuing to rise. Stephanie Coontz, author and family history professor at Evergreen State College in Washington State, does not expect the trend to be reversed anytime soon. “I don’t necessarily think this will accelerate,” she noted,“but I don’t expect it to go down.”
According to Professor Coontz, there are several reasons for the increase of gray divorce over the last several decades, even among couples married for many years. Many older married people are in their second or third marriage, which are generally more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. Another factor may be the fact that Americans are living longer, healthier lives than a half-century ago. “So with the kids gone, it seems more burdensome to stay in a bad relationship, or even one that has grown stale,” she said.
Researchers at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH, agree. Professor Susan L. Brown and Professor I-Fen Lin, sociologists at BGSU studied the census data and concluded, “Finally, lengthening life expectancies decrease the likelihood that marriages will end through death and increase the length of exposure to the risk of divorce.”
Americans are also being raised with the expectation that they will “find equality, intimacy, friendship, fun, and even passion” all the way through their lives, Professor Coontz observed. This may mean that individuals, and particularly women, are less likely to stay in relationships that do not offer such benefits, regardless of their age. Social media and Internet dating present an unhappily married person with what can be perceived as “better options” on a scale inconceivable to previous generations.
For those approaching retirement age, divorce can be extremely complex. A lifetime’s worth of assets, debts, property, pensions, and investments may need to be considered. Just as with couples of any age, a gray divorce may have a substantial negative impact on one or both partners. Older individuals, however, may not have as many years remaining to recover financially and the struggle can affect the rest of their lives.
If you live in Illinois and are considering divorce, no matter how old you are, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We can help you understand Illinois law regarding divorce and property division to ensure your future is protected.