New Trend Among Elderly
Young couples are not the only couples getting divorced these days. There are an increasing number of late-life divorces. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, just last year people 50 and over were twice as likely to seek a divorce than in 1990. The number of divorces were even greater at age 65 and older. This is an interesting phenomenon, because there was a noticeable decrease in divorce rates among other age groups.
Why are more elderly couples separating?
While this is an interesting trend, there are a number of possible explanations for this movement. Quite a number of elderly individuals are in second marriages. For people that have remarried, the divorce rate is nearly two and a half times greater. Second marriages create a wide variety of financial and familial challenges.
Another possible explanation is that people are living longer nowadays than in years past. When people’s life expectancy was not as long, it may have incentivized people to stick it out. But now, when people are in their 50s and 60s and have life expectancies into the 80s and 90s, it might make people question whether they want to remain in a stale marriage for 30 or 40 more years.
Societal attitudes towards divorce have also undergone tremendous change. It is no longer considered a stigma for a married couple to decide to go their separate ways after many years of marriage. Many prominent politicians have done just this. Presidential candidate Al Gore and Tipper Gore were married for 40 years and separated in 2010. Alabama governor Robert Bentley and Dianne were married for 50 years and filed for divorce just one month after their golden anniversary.
The Independent Woman
But the leading explanation for why divorce rates among the elderly are up is the changing status of women in society. AARP data reveals that 60 percent of women take the first step to initiate divorce proceedings. This represents a huge transformational shift that defies the traditional role of women.
As women become more financially independent and no longer rely on men for financial support, women have assumed a more liberated, empowered role in society. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, 54, observes that,
“I think men don’t want to rock the boat, and they’ll put with a less-than ideal situation.”
Because women now have greater participation in civic and working life, they are less willing to settle for a mediocre situation. Instead, these women break from unsatisfying relationships and look for better or more fulfilling relationships in other people.
There is ample support for the proposition that women are no longer willing to merely “settle.” Dr. Schwartz, a sociologist, has articulated that “Women have higher expectations for their emotional life.” Dr. Schwartz, age 70 herself, has attested to divorcing her husband of 23 years because “the marriage had run out of juice.”
By the time couples reach their golden years, the children are usually out of the picture. The oft-cited reason to keep together an unhappy marriage for the children’s sake is absent in the case where the children are grown up and living their own lives. Once the children are independent, many people feel that they no longer need to stay together “for the kids.”
Sometimes, after many years of marriage, couples simply grows apart. Celia Jeffries was married at the tender age of 20 and split with her husband after thirty-seven years of marriage. Ms. Jeffries explains that the reason for the break up was that “he went in one direction and I went in another.”
While some couples grow old and develop together, others experience that they begin to have less and less in common. So, as other age demographics are sticking with marriage, it is a new pattern evidenced in America’s elderly population for finding hope even after society suggests they are ‘too old’ to find new love.