While fifty years ago less than 2.8 percent of Americans over age 50 were divorced, today more than 15 percent are. Even just since 1990 the divorce rate for adults ages 50 plus doubled and it nearly tripled for those ages 65 and older. However, the divorce rate is not equally divided and impacts certain demographics at a higher rate.
The instability of remarriages
Dubbed the divorce echo effect, remarriages are less stable than first marriages and are 2.5 times more likely to end in divorce. A person who divorced in the past when a marriage was no longer satisfying is more likely to divorce again when faced with similar dissatisfaction or unhappiness. Conversely, those in a first marriage, even one that is no longer satisfying, are much more unwilling to divorce.
Interestingly, the baby boomer population leads the nation in remarriage and divorce rates. These couples faced unprecedented levels of divorce during their youth with marital instability continuing later in life. Adults ages 50 and older in remarriages face the greatest risk for divorce. Over 48 percent of adults age 50 and up in second or higher marriages will divorce again.
Rationale behind the uptick
One of the leading reasons behind the rise in gray divorce is the cultural shift for views on marriage and divorce. Divorce bears less of a social stigma than in years past. The views on marriage also evolved with spouses expecting the marriage to be a source of happiness and fulfillment. Being a good provider or homemaker is no longer enough as spouses are looking for more of a life partner. Adults also live longer than before and the idea of spending 20 or more years in an unsatisfying relationship is often unappealing. When spouses no longer provide satisfaction to one another, divorce is seen as a viable option to find personal happiness and satisfaction.
Divvying up assets later in life is not without challenges related to fiscal health. Unlike younger divorcees, older divorced adults are unlikely to recoup the financial losses of a divorces. Particularly at risk are women, who although they worked often left the workforce for periods of time to raise families. Divorced women ages 50 and older have only 20 percent of the wealth of their married or widowed peers.
A woman divorcing in her 20s or 30s has time to increase her earnings and recoup lost funds, whether through increased education or even by working longer hours. A younger divorcee also has the option to remarry someone with a higher income than her first partner. However, a gray divorcee does not have the option to spend the next decade or more rebuilding any wealth lost.
A gray divorce may be personally liberating, but it can also be financially devastating. Those facing a later in life divorce should seek legal advice to fully understand the financial liabilities associated with ending a marriage.