Various news organizations have reported recently that divorce rates for baby boomers continue to set new highs while rates are declining, slightly, for society as a whole. New research shows that older Americans are vastly more likely to divorce than they were several decades ago. In 2009, people ages 50 and older were twice as likely to divorce as their counterparts in 1990. Why exactly this has happened is a question researchers are seeking to answer.
Professional women are better able to survive alone than women from earlier generations. Longer life spans also likely play a role in the trend. Nowadays people in their 50s or early 60s may expect to have a few more healthy decades left, so why spend them unhappy? “We’re seeing divorces after 30, 40 years of marriage … and people who haven’t been there can’t imagine the devastation,” said Midlife Divorce Recovery’s founder, Suzy Brown, 65, of Kansas City.
“A lot of baby-boomer spouses, usually the wives, went to college but never had much chance to hone their skills. They chose to stay home and raise children, as did a lot of stay-at-home dads. Now they’re on their own and wondering who’s going to hire them in this job market.” Brown went on to explain why divorce during this time can be especially stressful for some women, “Some of the women are experiencing menopause. Some are dealing with the recent death of a parent. When you put it all together, it’s a major, cataclysmic life change.”
Men aren’t immune from such problems and have been left hurt too, especially given that two-thirds of baby-boom divorces are filed by wives. Men too report feeling that they’ve been betrayed by spouses who found love with someone new.
Statistics demonstrate the severity of the change:
- In 1990, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. divorces involved spouses age 50 or older. Today, more than 1 in 4 divorces involve older adults
- In 2009, the divorce rate hit 12.6 for every 1,000 married people ages 50-64, double the middle-aged divorce rate from 20 years earlier
- About a third of baby boomers today are unmarried.
- More than 2.7 million Americans 50 or older are cohabitating, nearly three times as many as in 2000.
Researchers are still trying to understand the causes and possible effects of the “gray divorce” phenomenon. Studies show many women eventually feel a sense of self-fulfillment and personal renewal after a midlife divorce. In a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, baby boomers were much more likely than other Americans to express a belief that the main point of marriage was to seek happiness rather than to rear children, explaining the sense of relief felt by some. Another Pew study showed 66% of boomers would prefer divorce to an unhappy marriage. Compare that to only 44% of younger Americans who said they agreed.
If you’re a baby boomer and find yourself facing the prospect of a separation or divorce, you need the help of an experienced South Carolina family law attorney to guide you through the difficult process.
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