Golden wedding anniversaries get the press, but sometimes there’s a different chapter to the happily-ever-after story. Divorce among adults 65-plus – some in their original, long-term marriage – is on the rise.
“The perception is that older people don’t get divorced,” says researcher Susan L. Brown, PhD, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
She’s discovered that they do – and in growing numbers. From 1980 to 2008, she found, divorce among men 65 and older doubled from 5 to 10 percent. Among women 65 and and older, it tripled, from 4 to 12 percent.
In 2010, 1 of every 20 people in the US who got divorced was 65-plus, Brown has found, using Census Bureau data.
The trend for senior divorce isn’t nearly as strong as it is among Baby Boomers age 50 to 64, whose divorce rate is more than four times that of those 65-plus. Still, those seniors are a substantial part of the what’s being called the “gray divorce” trend. And these splits can take family and friends by surprise.
Why Split After 65?
What’s going on in the marriages of those 65 and older?
“For many of these couples it’s about drifting apart,” Brown says, rather than a deal-breaking event such as an affair. “We are not the same person we were at 25 or 45. Some of these turning points – such as empty nest – can be pauses that cause us to reflect on where we are in our lives and if this is where we expect to be in our lives,” she says.
These days, Brown says, a 65-year-old can expect to live 20 or more years. That’s a long time to feel dissatisfied.
Many others are in remarriages that didn’t work. “For the 65-plus in a remarriage, their divorce rate is more than three times higher than those in the first marriage,” Brown says.
According to Brown, those who remarried later had a smaller pool to choose from than the first time. They may have compromised – and now regret it. Blended families can also prove too stressful.
Those who have been divorced in the past know it’s difficult, but also know that life goes on, she says.
Their mindset is different than those who hang in for decades with their first marriage, even if it’s not great. Among those in a first marriage who do not divorce, “A good share are dissatisfied, but not willing to get a divorce for personal, financial or religious reasons,” Brown says.
Life at 65 and Solo
Once divorced, older men tend to have a more difficult time emotionally than do older women, especially if they don’t remarry, says Leslie Martin, Ph.D. professor and chair of psychology at La Sierra University in Riverside, Ca.
That’s due to women typically having a larger social support network, she says.
Divorced or not, social connections are vital to improving older adults’ health and well-being, Martin found. With Howard Friedman, Ph.D., Martin has co-authored “The Longevity Project,” a book on the findings from an 80-year study of 1,500 Americans – what affects their life expectancy and health.
Those unmarried older people who reached out, taking time to make a phone call and talk with family and friends regularly, and who stayed involved in the community, did better, she says.
Is online as good? Martin says they didn’t study that. “My guess would be that if you are pretty isolated, however you can reach out and connect is going to be beneficial,” she says. However, ”if you already have contacts in person, giving those up to go online is probably not such a good idea.”
- Click here to Read Susan Brown’s report on senior divorce
- Click here to read Susan Brown’s piece on divorce over age 50 for the LA Times
- Click here to read about the Longevity Project