Wall Street Journal: The Gray Divorcés
The divorce rate for people 50 and over has doubled in the past two decades. Why baby boomers are breaking up late in life like no generation before.
For the new generation of empty-nesters, divorce is increasingly common. Among people ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has doubled over the past two decades, according to new research by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University, whose paper, "The Gray Divorce Revolution," Prof. Brown will present at Ohio State University this April. The paper draws on data from the 1990 U.S. Vital Statistics Report and the 2009 American Community Survey, administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, which asked all respondents if they'd divorced in the past 12 months.
Though overall national divorce rates have declined since spiking in the 1980s, "gray divorce" has risen to its highest level on record, according to Prof. Brown. In 1990, only one in 10 people who got divorced was 50 or older; by 2009, the number was roughly one in four. More than 600,000 people ages 50 and older got divorced in 2009.
... None of this is especially surprising for the "Me Generation," but today's gray divorces include a generational twist: For many boomers, it is not their first marital split. Fifty-three percent of the people over 50 now getting divorced have done so at least once before.
In fact, more "complex marital biographies," as Prof. Brown puts it, seem to be one of the driving forces behind gray divorce. Having been married previously doubles the risk of divorce for those ages 50 to 64. For those ages 65 and up, the risk factor quadruples.
For boomers who have had trouble maintaining commitments in the past, hitting the empty-nest phase seems to trigger thoughts of mortality—and of vanishing possibilities for self-fulfillment. ...