Recent celebrity divorces — such as the split between Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, after 30 years of marriage — have once again focused attention on the increasing number of so-called gray divorces in the United States. The term “gray divorce” is used to refer to splits between couples over 50 years of age.
In the past few years, the number of gray divorces in the U.S. has increased dramatically. In 2009, one out of every four married people over 50 years of age got divorced, amounting to over 600,000 people in total. In comparison, only one out of every 10 people over 50 got divorced in 1990.
These numbers are particularly notable when compared to the overall divorce rate, which has been decreasing since reaching record highs in the 1980s. Conversely, the divorce rate for people over 50 is two times larger now than it was in the 1980s.
Some common factors have been identified among divorcees over 50 — most notably, previous divorces. According to a Bowling Green State University study, people who have already been married and divorced at least once have a 150 percent higher chance of a subsequent marriage ending in divorce.
Why are so many people over 50 getting divorced?
The reasons for the rise of gray divorcescan partially be attributed to changing views regarding the role of marriage. In the 1970s, when many of the Baby Boomer generation originally wed, marriages started to be seen as a union focused on making each person happy. In the past, researchers note, marriages had more often been viewed as economic partnerships, focused on whether each spouse was fulfilling their perceived roles within the marriage.
In addition to people feeling secure in pursuing happiness when their marriage no longer meets their needs, people are now living longer, as well. According to a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, “Some of those marriages that in previous generations would have ended in death now end in divorce.”
Another factor noted by many researchers is the increasing economic independence of women. According to a 2004 AARP survey, women initiated the divorce two-thirds of the time for couples between the ages of 40 and 69.
While many assume infidelity is often a reason for divorce among all age groups, the same AARP survey found that only 27 percent of couples between 40 and 69 listed cheating as among the top three reasons for the split.
For those over 50 years of age who are considering a divorce, there are often many factors to consider, especially concerning the division of assets. Consulting with a skilled family law attorney will ensure your rights are protected.