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'Gray divorce' becoming more common, shift in meaning of marriage may be factor

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Posted at 11:50 AM, May 13, 2021

We don't have a clear picture yet about how the pandemic has impacted marriages, but it has given people a chance to reassess their situation.

“We're placed in a situation where you're spending, many couples are spending a lot more time together. And that can be really positive if they're in a high-quality marriage. But if they don't get along that well with their spouse or they feel that they don't have much in common anymore, I think that it could be an eye opener for them,” said Susan Brown, a co-director at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research.

One trend Brown has been following is “gray divorce.” That's more people separating at age 50 and older. She says that divorce rate doubled between 1990 and 2010, and it has stayed high since then. This is in contrast to the overall divorce rate that has been trending a bit downward for the past few decades.

One factor she says driving “gray divorce” is the shift in the meaning of marriage. She says it's more about personal fulfillment now.

The fact that more women are working now is also playing a role.

“It allows women to exit a marriage that they're not happy with, so wives these days are less economically dependent on their husbands than they would have been in the past,” said Brown.

One in three baby boomers are currently unmarried. That's raising questions about their care in the future.

“Even though much of ‘gray divorce' is happening to adults who are sort of in late middle age their 50s or 60s, if they don't get re-married or re-partnered, then they're going to be facing old age alone and who's going to care for them? A lot of them have children, but some of them don't,” said Brown.

Research has found following “gray divorce,” women are very unlikely to form a new partnership while the majority of men will.