Protecting Your Family And Future

  1. Home
  2.  » 
  3. Divorce
  4.  » Gray divorce is still rising: Here’s why

Gray divorce is still rising: Here’s why

On Behalf of | May 29, 2024 | Divorce |

Divorce rates in the United States (and other Western nations) are going down — except among the older generations. 

These so-called “gray divorces”  have been on the rise for several decades. While divorce rates among younger couples have stabilized or even declined, the rate of gray divorce has doubled (or tripled, for some age groups) since the 1990s. This trend raises important questions about why older couples are choosing to part ways and the unique challenges they face when they do.

Key factors driving gray divorces

One of the primary drivers behind the increase in gray divorce is simply the longer life expectancy people now enjoy in the modern world. People are living healthier, more active lives well into their 70s and 80s. With this extended lifespan, a lot of people feel that they have more time to pursue personal fulfillment and happiness –  and that may sometimes include ending an unsatisfying, if long-term, marriage.

Other factors leading to the explosion of gray divorces include:

  • Changing social norms: Societal attitudes toward divorce have evolved significantly over the past few decades. Divorce is no longer stigmatized, and the idea of ending a marriage to seek personal happiness (instead of due to “fault” like a spouse’s alcoholism or abuse) has become more accepted. 
  • Financial independence: Economic factors have always played a pivotal role in divorce, and this is still true. Many older adults, particularly women, have achieved greater financial independence through careers and personal savings. This financial security provides them with the means to live independently, making the prospect of divorce more feasible. Men, too, have more financial independence to leave unhappy marriages, since they are less likely to have to pay long-term spousal support to a dependent former spouse.)
  • Empty Nest Syndrome: Many gray divorces occur after children have left home. The “empty nest” period can prompt couples to reassess their relationship. Without the focus on raising children, some couples just realize that they have grown apart or have unresolved issues in their relationship that can no longer be ignored.
  • Retirement and lifestyle changes: The shift from working life to retirement can create new dynamics and pressures in a marriage. Couples may have different visions for their retirement years, leading to conflicts and a decision to part ways – especially if one spouse seems to have “settled” and wants a cozy retirement while the other feels like this is their opportunity to travel or explore new things.
  • Ideological and political differences: There’s no question that politics and ideologies have come to be a very divisive factor in modern society, and there is no guarantee that a couple will stay on the same path in these areas. Some couples find themselves with radically different concepts of how the world should operate, and that can drive them apart at any stage of life.

Ultimately, it is usually a combination of factors that causes older couples in well-established marriages to call “quits.” There’s no one answer –  and no wrong decision.

Final thoughts

Divorcing later in life can have significant financial implications. Dividing assets and retirement savings can impact the financial stability of both parties. Additionally, there may be concerns about one or both spouses maintaining their health insurance, managing their debts and ensuring sufficient income for their retirements. Gray divorce can also affect family relationships, including those with a couple’s adult children and grandchildren. The emotional impact of a late-life divorce can be profound, and family members may have strong reactions that need to be navigated with sensitivity.

Working with a financial advisor, a therapist and a legal professional with experience in gray divorce can provide valuable support. Developing a clear plan for the future can help mitigate some of the uncertainties of gray divorce and make it easier to move forward.