Why Are Baby Boomers Suddenly Divorcing?

Dayton Uttinger  | 

Our grandparents are often seen as symbols of security. They’ve got life experience, consistently cook the best food, and often preach values of family and stability. As such, the news that baby boomers are suddenly divorcing left and right may be a little shocking.

What is a Gray Divorce?

A “gray divorce” is a divorce that occurs any time after turning 50. It might seem like couples that make it that long are in the clear, but that’s not the case. Gray divorces have doubled in the last 25 years. Conversely, divorce rates for younger couples have remained stagnant. Why is there a sudden discrepancy between the two age groups?

Reasons for a Gray Divorce

There are a couple reasons for the growing gray divorce rate. People are living well for longer, so those over 50 still have the chance to live a full, rich life after divorce. If seniors are only expecting a few more years, they might not leave what their comfortable with. But if they really believe that there is a chance for something better, they just might take the chance.

The stigma surrounding divorce has also become less negative. Many divorced couples do not face the same social exile that their predecessors did. Couples that would have stayed together in the past for social reasons now have the option to divorce without worry of being ostracized. Additionally, it’s more likely that both partners are earners, meaning that one of them isn’t dependent upon the other for financial stability.

However, most gray divorces happen for the same reasons that most divorces happen: a disagreement on how to live life. Whether it’s money, alcohol abuse, infidelity, or anything else that happens over 30+ years of marriage, it doesn’t go away with time. If people can’t forget and forgive, perhaps it’s better to let go.

Are We All Destined for Gray Divorces?

Since baby boomers are divorcing for typical reasons, not because of some specific defect, then surely Gen Xers and millennials will be next to start splitting up, right?

There’s no real way to know for sure. The stigma around divorce will only continue to decrease with time. Even the Pope has softened his stance on divorce. Fewer couples will be afraid that they’ll be outcasts if they separate. Women are also working more now than they were 50 years ago, so there is less of an issue surrounding marital gender-centric income dependency than ever before. The barriers to divorce will only continue to fall.

Baby Boomers Have Always Led in Divorce Rates

Interestingly, baby boomers had some of the highest divorce rates even when they were younger. This is in stark contrast to millennials, who are marrying later and divorcing less. Women aren’t just working more, they’re becoming more educated, and couples in which both parties have a college degree are less likely to divorce than those without. Additionally, marrying later means that millennials are only tying the knot when they’re already stable in their careers and know themselves somewhat. Baby boomers often got married in their early 20’s, whereas millennials are waiting until they are almost 30.

All of this combined puts baby boomers at a higher risk of divorce in general, and the divorce rate did peak in the 1980s, in part due to baby boomers ending their first marriages. They then remarried, which also increases the chance of divorce, and we’re seeing the effects of that now in the form of gray divorces.

Since younger generations aren’t divorcing as much as baby boomer did when they were younger, they probably won’t follow the gray divorce trend either. This is good news, since not only is divorce an expensive process, but it is emotionally taxing. Ultimately, if divorcees are happier for it, good for them; however, it’s a good idea to avoid the whole process in the first place, if you can.

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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.