Gray divorce is a phrase used to describe American adults over the age of 50 who are seeking to end their marriages. While the divorce rate for other age groups is remaining flat or slightly declining, the divorce rate for the Baby Boomer generation has been steadily rising for the last several decades. Researchers have debated the cause of this for years and might finally be able to shed some light on the phenomenon.
Like most things, gray divorce seems to be due to a confluence of factors, including:
- Societal acceptance of divorce: It seems that, historically, a pervasive negative social stigma surrounded divorce. It was unacceptable, in the eyes of many, to end your marriage. As a result, many couples stayed together that probably should have been apart. In recent years, however, much of the stigma has been removed. Society, in general, understands that couples grow apart, and few marriages are truly “til death do us part.”
- Couples are living longer: Modern medicine, advances in nutrition and the fitness trend that started decades ago have all led to longer life expectancies. If a person in his or her 50s is an unhappy spouse, it might be a harsh realization that the marriage could last another 30 or more years.
- Protecting the children: It is not uncommon for parents to stay together to provide a unified home for the children. With this uneasy alliance, the married couple can still provide a solid foundation for the growing children. However, with grown children living independent lives, the parents in an unhappy marriage can finally divorce without guilt.
Additionally, the past two years have been difficult for many marriages. With the pressure of the global pandemic and numerous lock downs in place, many couples have lost any level of privacy and independence. In these situations, the couple is always in close proximity which might shine a spotlight on any personality flaws or weaknesses in the marriage.
Divorce in the later stages of life used to be rare. Several factors, however, have made gray divorce a more common occurrence. Gone is the social stigma and stereotypes that surrounded a “failed” marriage. Often, couples realize they would rather divorce and seek a fresh, new relationship than feel trapped in an unhappy marriage for decades to come.