Grey Divorce on the Rise

What do Al Gore, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos all have in common? They are all baby boomers who divorced after 20 or more years of marriage: Al Gore’s marriage ended after 40 years, Bill Gates’s after 27, and Jeff Bezos’s after 25. All three had a “Grey Divorce.”

What Is a Grey Divorce?

A “grey divorce” — also known as a “silver splitter” or “diamond splitter” — refers to a divorce that occurs in couples 50 years or older. They are typically grey-haired baby boomers, married for more than two decades and sometimes for more than 40 years.

Rates Are Rising Among the 50+ Club

One might expect the longevity of these marriages, coupled with an increased wisdom and reduced impulsiveness with age, would guarantee a lower risk for divorce. Such guarantees no longer exist. If anything, studies show rising divorce rates in those older than age 50.

The April 2021 U.S. Census Bureau report showed 34.9 percent of all Americans that divorced in 2020 were 55 years or older. This rate was more than double the rate of divorce in any other age group! This study also showed 66 percent of women and 41 percent of men had asked for the grey divorce.

If it’s any consolation, divorce rates in the younger age groups are declining. While 76 percent of grey divorcees in one study believe they made the right decision, 49 percent of them admitted to having more than the usual amount of stress due to the divorce. In other words, almost half of those polled may be regretting the divorce.

About 32 percent of the divorcees remarried and six percent remarried the same person. Four percent had sex at least occasionally with their ex-spouse for several years.

Between 1980 and 2008 in the USA, divorce rates in men 65 years and older have jumped from 5 to 15 percent, while rates in women 65 and over have tripled from four to 12 percent.

This trend doesn’t come as a surprise to some social scientists.

As far back as 1982, social scientists posited that the growing acceptance of divorce socio-culturally, the increased opportunities for employment for women, the weakening of marriage as a lifetime institution, and the increased need for individual freedom would all play significant roles in accelerating grey divorces. Forty years later, the prediction has come true.

Health Risks Associated with Divorcing

Whatever your reasons for divorce — falling out of love (24 percent), alcohol and drug addiction (21 percent), control freak (16 percent), financial problems (14 percent), spouse not carrying their weight (14 percent), falling in love with someone else (10 percent), or abandonment (10 percent) — getting a divorce has health risks often ignored by doctors.

The 2004-2005 British English Longitudinal Study of Ageing of more than 6000 older adults showed a 46 percent increase in the risk of death following a grey separation or divorce. Another British study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in October 1995, reported that divorced men were twice more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than widowed men.

Divorce more than doubled the risk of breast cancer in a Finnish Twin Cohort Study of more than 10,000 women published in 2003. The National Longitudinal Mortality Survey Study found separation or divorce doubled the risk of suicide in men. Divorce is rarely good for your health.

So, if you are older than 50 and thinking of divorce, don’t just jump into it. Consider the benefits and the above risks.

If the risks far outweigh the benefits, and you are more likely to have a bitter divorce that spends your retirement funds on lawyers, stay together and work to find other solutions.

After all, about half of “grey” divorcees eventually regret making that decision. If you must leave, leave in peace — not in pieces.

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