‘Gray divorce’: More Americans are splitting up later in life, analysis says

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Divorce rates among middle-aged and older Americans have surged in recent years. 

An analysis from the Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) found that divorce rates have doubled for Americans who are 55 or older and it has tripled for those who are 65 and older between 1990-2021. 

This trend of getting divorced in your 50s and older is known as the "gray divorce" trend. 

Younger couples are staying together

Overall, divorce rates have gone down between 1990 and 2021. 

Data collected by NCFMR found a dramatic difference in the divorce rates for those who were between the ages of 15-24 and those who were 65 and older. 

In 1990, the divorce rates for those between 15 and 24 years of age were 47.2 per 1,000 and 1.8 per 1,000 for people 65 and older. 

But in 2021, the rates for divorce were 19.7 per 1,000 for younger people and 5.5 per 1,000 for Baby Boomers. 

Much of the reason people who are 65 and older are calling it quits is due to cultural shifts, attitudes toward marriage, the kids are out of the house and the fact that some people are just in different periods of their lives compared to their significant other. 

"There's been an uptick in divorce among Baby Boomers since the 1970s," sociologist Brad Wilcox told FOX News Digital. "They were part of a generation that came of age in the 1970s and late 1960s when there was a much more individualistic spirit that was coursing through American life. It was called 'The Me Decade’ by Tom Wolfe, who was a famous writer in that time." 


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At the Institute for Family Studies, Wilcox analyzes marriage, family and divorce trends in the United States. He said time has shown that Baby Boomers are more likely to get divorced than other generations, in part, because of this independent streak that's shaped this generation. 

"So from the 1970s onward, we've kind of seen that the Baby Boomers have been much more likely to get divorced," he said. But there are other factors driving the "gray divorce" trend, he said.

Kids are gone; now what? 

After their kids have moved out, many Americans in their 50s and 60s are more comfortable getting divorced. 

"I think more and more couples have some appreciation for this idea that it's better for the kids' sake to remain married, that your kids are more likely to flourish in school and in life if you remain married," he argued. 

"After kids are gone, then they're more likely to say, 'Well, I've basically done what I can and should for my children. And now it's time for me to experience romance at age 58 or 65 or even 72. So that's a big part of the dynamic that is playing out as well," Wilcox said. "Obviously there are cases too, where people have been putting up with alcoholism or physical abuse or other more severe patterns in a marriage for many, many years. And they're just like, 'Well, I've had it, I'm out.'"

Financial difficulty in later divorce


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Divorce later in life can have a "devastating" financial impact, particularly on women, one study found. 

According to research by sociologists at Bowling Green State University published in 2021, after divorce, "women experienced a 45% decline in their standard of living (measured by an income-to-needs ratio), whereas men’s dropped by just 21%." 

"These declines persisted over time for men, and only reversed for women following repartnering, which essentially offset women’s losses associated with gray divorce," the study stated. 

Divorce can take a heavy toll on most couples, but ensuing conflicts over homes, retirement savings and the assets invested in over a decades-long relationship can have an even more crushing impact on older couples. 

"When people are getting divorced, even at a later age, they often pay a hefty financial penalty for it," Wilcox said. 

Certified Financial Planner Patti Black told USA Today that couples should consider carefully the financial costs before calling it quits. 

"Count the costs. Maybe you try to ride it out. Maybe the money would be better spent on marital counseling than on a divorce attorney," she said. 

FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.