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What is the cause of the rise in gray divorce?

Although many people associate divorce with young couples or the rich and famous, the truth is that divorce affects those of all ages and lifestyles. One demographic that has been experiencing a significant rise in divorce is seniors. What was once taboo for their time has become acceptable among those over 50 years old.

Why the sudden change? Is it a reflection of the changing times, a dead marriage or something else at play? The Institute for Family Studies reveals the true causes of gray divorce based on a study from Bowling Green State University's National Center for Family and Marriage Research.

Possible explanations

Many have speculated on the reasons behind more seniors splitting up. These have included:

  • The decline in a spouse's health
  • Longer life span and sexual activity
  • Less social stigma surrounding divorce
  • Children no longer living at home
  • Financial security for independent living

While these circumstances most certainly apply to some cases, the data does not support these variables as significantly contributing to the rise in gray divorce.

Study results

The university study led to some surprising results about the correlations (not necessarily causes) between certain factors and divorce later in life. First, wealth was actually a safeguard against divorce, with couples having fewer assets and more debt being likelier to split. Also, divorced seniors have higher rates of poverty than those who are in a married or cohabitating relationship, so financial security may be a reason to stay in the marriage. 

Another correlation is not so much a surprise. Those who were remarried were breaking up more often than those who were on their first marriage. This finding matches the general statistics on remarriage and divorce. Additionally, those who had been married longer were less likely to divorce, as were those who reported a higher marital quality.

Regardless of the reasons, gray divorce is very real and comes with its own unique considerations, such as the division of retirement accounts and changes to estate plans.

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