The Gray Divorce Podcast: Episode 13 Divorce After 65

Andrew Hatherley |

Episode 13 of The Gray Divorce Podcast focuses on divorce after 65. 

While many people realize that the divorce rate for people over the age of 50 has gone up over the past 30 years while the divorce rate has dropped for younger people, fewer realize that couples getting divorced after 65 are really the engine pulling the gray divorce train. 

I look at the statistics for gray divorce over the last 50 years and discuss some of the implications for older adults getting divorced compared to younger married couples. A lot of the data in this podcast episode is drawn from research by Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin at Bowling Green State University and a report published by Pew Research Center written by Renee Stepler in 2017.  

The Statistics 

In 1990 the percentage of all persons divorcing over the age of 50 was 8.7%.  

By 2019 more than one in three or 36% of people getting divorced were aged 50 and older.  

But something very interesting has happened from 2010 to the present. The overall gray divorce rate has flattened. In 2010 there were 10 people over age 50 divorcing out of 1000 married people but by 2019 it was still high, but it dropped a little bit to 9.6. 

But if we strip out the middle-aged 50-64 group and look at only the age 65+ group we see that from 2010 to the present the divorce rate continued to increase from 4.8 per 1000 in 2010 to 5.6 per 1000 in 2019. 

So, why is it that older Americans from 65 years of age up continue to see increased rates of divorce while for middle-aged and younger Americans the numbers are stagnant or dropping?  

Baby boomers are to blame 

Brown and Lin note that distinctive marital patterns of Baby Boomers are marked by exceptionally high levels of divorce and remarriage which have led to elevated levels of gray divorce during the second half of life.  

So, while the middle age group aged 50 to 64 was composed entirely of baby boomers in 2010, by 2019 much of this generation had aged into older adulthood, age 65 and older. Meanwhile, middle-aged people nowadays are starting to be replaced by members of Generation X. This suggests that the divorce rate for the middle age group may continue to stagnate while gray divorce for older adults who are now primarily baby boomers continues to grow.  

Special Concerns of Divorce after 65  

Issues that are likely to be more prominent in a midlife divorce are likely to be even more exacerbated or take on a special character for a late-life divorce after age 65.  

Let's look at life expectancy. The life expectancy for a woman who is now 65 is 86 years of age. And for a man, it's 83 years of age. 

For financial advisors such as myself, this has a big implication for retirement planning.  

There are also concerns with alimony, Social Security, health insurance, nursing care, and estate planning complications from death during the divorce process.  

The psychological and social impact is important too. 

  • Men, unlike women, tend not to have deeper networks of support to carry them through life transitions. 

  • Men are more likely than women to fear complete abandonment by their adult children.  

  • Women often tend to be the social organizers in a marriage thus leaving the man without training in this particular social skill. 

  • Men, for a variety of reasons, find it more difficult to make friends with other men as easily as women make friends with other women.  

In conclusion, the special concerns that gray divorcees may have versus younger people getting divorced are somewhat different for the oldest group of people, experiencing divorce after 65. Some concerns may be more pronounced, others less so. And of course, each divorce has its own special circumstances. 

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