Gray Divorce and Its Effects on Health and Finances

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Gray Divorce and Its Effects on Health and Finances
older couple on park bench

Many people tend to think that divorce is more prevalent among younger couples who got married too young to deal with real life obstacles and too soon to get to know each other properly. However, recent studies suggest that the divorce rate for couples over 50 is increasingly rapidly as the baby boomer generation delves further into the golden years. Moreover, divorcing later in life can have more drastic repercussions on things like health and finances than splitting up earlier in a marriage.

Gray Divorce Risk Factors

While the divorce rate for over 50 couples has doubled since 1990, it is still less than half the rate for younger people. Nevertheless, experienced divorce attorneys are dealing with older couples much more frequently than in the past. Although people may assume that this is the result of midlife crises run amok, reality paints a far different picture.

Prior Marital History

One’s marital history appears to be one of the strongest risk factors for divorce in older age. For instance, those who were divorced previously are 2.5 times more likely to get divorced again than people still in their first marriages. Furthermore, second marriages of less than 10 years are almost 10 times more likely to divorce than couples who have been together at least 40 years.

Wealth Helpful to Couples’ Longevity

Although many people think that having money makes it easier for couples to split, gray divorce is more common among people without a college degree or who are unemployed. Some studies cite unemployment rather than retirement as a more common denominator in older divorcing couples.

A closer look at the socioeconomics of divorcing couples shows that a lack of money and resources may be pushing couples towards divorce while having a solid income and other assets may actually help couples stay together. More affluent couples may have access to things like counseling or even second homes that enable them to live separate lives without divorcing.

Health Effects of Later Divorces

One of the main downsides to divorcing at an advanced age is how it can affect one’s health. A 2009 study showed that recently divorced adults had higher resting blood pressure while another study discovered that older divorcees, especially the men, tend to gain weight. Divorced individuals also report higher levels of depression than people whose spouses have died. Indeed, living alone at this age can be very difficult for people’s social lives.

Financial Repercussions

Late-in-life divorce may be even more deleterious to one’s finances than his or her health. One research survey found that people’s wealth typically drops by 50% after divorce. Unfortunately, incomes tend to drop precipitously as well. For instance, the standard of living for women drops about 45%, nearly twice the drop seen in younger divorced women. For this reason, it may help to consult with a knowledgeable divorce attorney who can help to plan for the future.  

On the other hand, men’s incomes don’t suffer nearly as much with only a 21% drop, although the income difference for younger men remains minimal.

The most disturbing part of this trend is the inability of these divorcees to recover financially. Even a decade later, many people are unable to achieve the standard of living they enjoyed during their marriage. At this point, it’s often too late in their careers or too late to start another career to reverse the financial hardship that a divorce imposes.    

Women seem to get hit the hardest as a 2017 study found that women over 63 who had undergone a divorce have a poverty rate of 27%, compared with 11.4% for men and only 3% for married couples or ones who remarried.

Overall Divorce Rate Declining

Nevertheless, one of the more positive offshoots of the high divorce rate for baby boomers may be that the overall rate of divorce is dropping as couples are waiting longer to tie the knot. Indeed, many couples are opting to live together before jumping into marriage. For example, from 1980-1984 approximately 40% of women lived with their husband before marrying for the first time. From the 2010 to 2014, the rate of cohabitation before marriage jumped to 70%.

Pros and Cons of Remarrying

For people who just can’t stand to be alone, there is always the option of remarrying. Fortunately, the depression that accompanied a divorce usually ends as soon as the person remarries. The statistics on second marriages, however, should make anyone wary of jumping back into marriage too soon. Unfortunately, the divorce rate for people over 50 in remarriages is twice the rate of those who have only been married once.

Because people are living much longer today than in the past, they are faced with different choices as they approach their golden years. The reality that people can expect to live nearly twenty years after turning 65 has led many to rethink their life and its trajectory as retirement looms.

While it doesn’t make much sense to be miserable for the next ten or even twenty years, most people are not prepared for the financial and emotional havoc that separating often causes after years of being together. Consequently, older couples need to be aware of the immense toll that it will exact upon them. In addition, they need to accept that a complete recovery of their former life may no longer be possible, and they should prepare accordingly.

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