Older Americans ending their marriages at a record pace

Divorce rates for older couples have doubled in recent years and show no signs of slowing.

In today's world, nothing lasts forever. Phones become outdated, car engines die, houses are remodeled and clothes go out of style. Apparently, that same mindset seems to apply to marriage for many people. Whereas in the past, couples who had been married 20 years or more were likely to go on "till death to [they] part," those same couples are now ending their long-term marriages at a record high rate.

A recent study performed by sociologists at Bowling Green State University, and another by researchers at the University of Minnesota's "Minnesota Population Center" give startling insight into the perceived "gray divorce" trend affecting couples over the age of 50. The studies reveal that the divorce rate for couples in this age demographic is now twice as high as it was just 20 years ago.

Both studies used information supplied by the United States Census Bureau's "American Community Survey" (ACS) that collected data beginning in 1990. At that time, one out of every 10 people over the age of 50 was divorced, but now that number stands at one in every four people in that age bracket. The Bowling Green and Minnesota studies each note that the sharp increase in divorce rate is only affecting older couples; the divorce rate for people under the age of 50 has dropped slightly in recent years and is now holding relatively steady at around 50 percent.

Why is there a disparity?

Many people wonder why there is a marked difference in the divorce rate when age demographics are compared. There is no singular answer proffered by either research study nor by analysts commenting on this issue. There are, however, societal changes that could contribute to the rise.

One key contributing factor is the lessening of the stigma that once surrounded divorce. Even 30 or 40 years ago - when many of the couples now getting divorced were first married - divorce wasn't nearly as accepted as it is now. Back then, divorce was a source of shame for many people. Nowadays, however, divorce is often celebrated as a way to kick off a new life of purpose and self-satisfaction.

Another factor is our country's recovering economy. In times of economic hardship, many couples feel they simply don't have the option to divorce. Once their finances improve, though, they may be more willing to take the risk in exchange for a happier life.

Also contributing are the myriad scientific and medical advances of the past few generations. Life expectancies are now at an all-time high, and living to the age of 90 or above is now quite common. Many people don't want to spend their golden years trapped with a partner they have grown apart from and with whom they no longer share interests.

Are you looking for a better life?

Regardless of the reasons why you are thinking about divorce, this is an exciting - but anxiety-producing - time. It is also a time to exercise caution. If you are considering ending your long-term marriage, you need to proceed carefully to avoid jeopardizing your legal rights. Speak with a family law attorney in your area to learn more.

Keywords: divorce, "gray divorce," "baby boomer divorce"