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As U.S. Divorce Rates Decline, Baby Boomers Continue to Call it Quits

— March 25, 2019

‘Til death do us part is becoming less of a trend in the Baby Boomer generation. As total divorce rates decrease, there’s a steady move in the opposite direction for the Boomers.

Even as overall divorce rates continue to decline all over the U.S., Baby Boomers continue to pursue divorce at an increasing rate.

According to a study by Dr. Philip N. Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, the divorce rate per 1,000 married couples declined by 18 percent from 1980 to 2010. Cohen also predicts that the trend will continue in the coming years.

“However one interprets the trends before 2010, all signs now point toward decreasing divorce rates, on a cohort and population basis, in the coming years,” Cohen said.

However, the study also noted that divorce rates for couples aged 45 and above, also known as “gray divorcees” has increased significantly and will continue to grow.

Key Data Points About Gray Divorce

According to one of Pew’s Research Centers, divorce rates for 50-plus-year-olds have more than doubled in the last quarter-century. The study also revealed that:

  • Divorce is far more likely in Boomers married multiple times or less than 0 to 9 years
  • In forty-eight percent of all Boomer divorces in 2015, at least one party was on their second or more marriage
  • About 34 percent of Baby Boomers who divorced in 2017 had been married for 30 or more years.

Unsurprisingly, research also shows that divorce cases in popular retirement areas were mostly comprised of Baby Boomers.

“Our office in Orlando, which serves Central Florida, sees many more Baby Boomer divorce cases, as well as ‘grey divorces’ [compared to other groups],” said Gerard Virga, founder and lead attorney of The Virga Law Firm.

Factors that Contribute to Divorce in Baby Boomers

With the revelation that Millennials are actually doing better marriage-wise than their parents, family advocacy groups and sociologists have scrambled to understand why. While studies have not identified one leading cause in gray divorce, some common themes have emerged.

A Lack of Self-Fulfillment

Baby Boomers seem to tend to prioritize self-fulfillment as their primary life goal. When a marriage doesn’t seem ‘fulfilling anymore,’ Boomers see it as justifiable grounds for getting a divorce.

Losing Children as a Bond of Marriage

For many interviewed Baby Boomers, the only factor that held their marriage together for so long was their sense of obligation to their children. As their Millennial children have grown and moved out on their own, Boomer parents are ending marriages they’ve been miserable in for years.

Woman in gray dress and red hat walking away; image by Fabio Neo Amato, via
Woman in gray dress and red hat walking away; image by Fabio Neo Amato, via

A Desire to Enjoy Their Twilight Years

Another factor may be the increasing average life expectancy for senior citizens in the U.S. In 1990, the average life expectancy was 71-years-old. By 2018, it had increased to 78. Boomers frequently cite constrained social lives and a desire to enjoy their ‘twilight years’ as grounds for divorce.

Gray Divorce is Wreaking Havoc on Boomers’ Finances

In addition to the emotional turmoil that many Boomers face after getting a divorce, many are finding themselves surprised by the financial hardship they face as well.

In particular, there are four key financial components that are leaving gray divorcees on very shaky ground.

1. The Division of Assets is More Complicated

Since 50 percent of all Baby Boomers who divorce have been married previously, divorcees, and their attorneys, face a complicated legal battle to determine who gets what. Courts seem to be struggling to determine what a fair ruling is when a divorcee is either paying out or has received assets from a previous marriage.

“In Florida, the Court takes a variety of factors into consideration when determining the division of assets between a couple. Those factors include the amount of property involved, whether there are minor children between the two parties, whether there was a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, as well as which party presented the stronger case,” Virga said. “In addition, the Court typically favors the party that has acted in good faith throughout the proceedings.”

2. A Retirement Plan That Doesn’t Work

Divorced Boomers are also finding that their retirement plan, which was most likely based on dual incomes, isn’t working now. Couples who previously divided the bills related to utilities, insurance, healthcare, and even mortgage costs are now facing those expenses alone. Many couples fail to update their plans to account for retirement expenses from a single income prior to getting divorced.

3. Declines in Social Security

An additional problem that Boomers seeking divorce didn’t count on was their social security failing them. On average, social security only contributes about 40 percent of the wages that most Boomers enjoyed during their working years. Coupled with divorce, the loss of a sustainable wage has left many retirees without a way to fund their expenses.

4. Trouble Re-Entering the Workforce

With the loss of their assets, their retirement plan in ruins, and their social security not covering the difference, many Boomers are finding that they have to return to the workforce, whether they want to or not. However, many Boomers find that it’s increasingly difficult to do so for several reasons.

There’s a perceived stigma about hiring “old timers” to fill key positions. Even though they have extensive experience, young, progressive employers are worried that older workers are set in their ways and resistant to change. Many retirees are entitled to a higher starting salary than their younger competitors, in some cases making it more difficult to find work.

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