Divorce in Older Couples: Trends and Statistics

For many years, divorce rates for older adults haven‘t been a prime research area. Indeed, in a recent study, Susan L. Brown, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, explained that until recent scholarly activity, there was a “paucity of research on later life divorce.” Even when certain research modules did study later-life divorce, those studies tended to be dated or based little on empirical evidence.

Now, with Brown‘s study and the rise of research related to divorce in older couples, we have more information at the ready. One important point is that the number of divorces among older couples “has more than doubled since 1980,” according to Brown‘s research. Yet, that number doesn‘t explain whether the risk of divorce among middle-aged and elderly couples has actually grown in that time period. So what do the trends reveal?

Divorce Trends in the 50+ Age Group Revealed

According to Brown‘s study, under she began researching divorce trends in older couples; the most recent national divorce rates were actually compiled in 1990. That means that the statistics weren‘t up to date. Now, with more current statistics, we can see that “the divorce rates among persons ages 50 and older has more than doubled between 1990 and 2008.” That‘s a striking number of divorcees.

Indeed, for every group of 1,000 persons aged 50 or older, about 10 percent experienced a divorce in 2008. In total, approximately 600,000 couples aged 50 or older divorced that year. Put another way, “more than 1 in 4 persons who divorced in 2008 were aged 50 or older.” If the trends remain the same, Brown and other researchers suggest that, by year 2030, more than 800,000 people in the 50+ age group will experience divorce.

Those numbers are still drastically lower than the statistics for the general American population (regardless of age), which show about 45 percent of marriages ending in divorce. However, the number is still high enough to beg the question: is there a reason that older couples are beginning to divorce in the millennium?

Driving Factors for Divorce Older Adults

Brown‘s research shows that “older adults who divorce tend to be less educated than those who remain married,” and older adults who decide to divorce are often in shorter-length marriage than those adults who remain married. For instance, older adults who divorce are often in relationship that have lasted less than 10 years, while 50+ adults who remain married tend to be in relationships that have endured for 40 or more years.

While education levels and length of marriage may be key factors, a recent article in the Chicago Tribune suggested that the answer might be even simpler: there are more older adults than in previous years. As the baby boomer generation ages, the United States is seeing a rise in the number of 50+ adults. Brown echoed this sentiment, revealing that there‘s a “huge segment of baby boomers” in the country. But in addition, there are also more women who have careers than in years past. In previous decades, many women didn‘t have careers of their own, and as a result they often stayed “in empty-shell marriages for the money,” Brown said. Now, many women can equally support themselves, and they may be more likely to make the decision to end an unhappy marriage.

What factors are less likely to lead older adults to divorce? An article from the AARP reflected many of these points, and it emphasized that, for older adults, extramarital affairs typically are not the cause of late-life divorces. Indeed, “extramarital affairs happen for only a relatively small number of couples.” Thus, although infidelity is frequently a factor reflected in general divorce trends, “it‘s not the reason in most cases” for those aged 50 and up. According to the AARP article, the reasons are “less dramatic” middle-aged and elderly persons.

Regardless of the reasons behind divorce, it‘s clear that more baby boomers are going to be divorcing in the years to come. If you‘re currently considering divorce and have questions, the experienced family law attorneys at Collins & Collins can discuss your case with you today.


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