Why are older Americans divorcing more than everybody else?

Rising divorce rates among plus-50 age group bucks national divorce trends

Sociologists and statisticians have been grappling with a rapidly growing trend in recent decades: gray divorce. Although the divorce rate has declined or remained stable for most Americans, researchers say people over 50 are bucking the trend by divorcing more frequently than any other age group, according to Time. While the issue has been growing over the past couple decades, it has only been in recent years that analysts have seriously tried to address some of the causes behind the trend. While many reasons have been offered, there is still much disagreement about why older Americans are likelier to divorce nowadays.

The gray divorce boom

The rise of gray divorce certainly doesn't conform with many people's ideas of old age and retirement, yet some of the figures speak for themselves. People 50 years of age and older are twice as likely to divorce today than that same age group was just 20 years ago. More striking is the fact that a quarter of all divorces now involve at least one spouse who is 50 or older.

Part of the increase is explained by the fact that many of these divorces involve second or third marriages, which tend to have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. But researchers note that such an explanation doesn't entirely account for the gray divorce trend. Half of gray divorces, they point out, actually involve long-term first marriages.

What are the risks?

With so many first marriages ending just before people reach retirement, another explanation may be that people are less likely to stay in an unhappy marriage in light of longer lifespans. Additionally, it is probable that many couples are calling it quits once the children have moved out of the family home and will possibly be less affected by a divorce.

Of course, divorcing so close to or even in retirement is not easy. As USA Today points out, when it comes to divorce, most people only get one chance to get it "right." A divorce order that wipes out one spouse financially could leave his or her retirement plans in ruins or require him or her to work a few extra years in order to afford even the most basic retirement lifestyle.

Third-party advice

Experts suggest anybody going through a gray divorce should rely on third-party advice from an expert in the field, like a financial adviser and family law attorney, in order to avoid such financial hardship. An experienced attorney, for example, can help a client in the midst of a divorce understand what measures can be taken to protect his or her retirement, such as protecting pension funds and deciding what to do with property that may have been accrued over the course of the marriage.