Gray divorce is a worldwide phenomenon, yet many individuals have never heard of it. When someone over the age of 50 gets divorced, it is known as Gray divorce. Recent data shows that among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s.
The impact of gray divorce affects not only the individual but the family system as well. Therefore, it is critical to investigate the reasons why some couples over 50 may decide to get a divorce.
A study reported that the onset of an empty nest, retirement, or chronic illnesses was not linked to gray divorce. Instead, the authors found that the reasons for this phenomenon are very similar to that of younger divorce. Some examples are marital quality, marital duration, homeownership, and wealth. Couples who are socially and economically disadvantaged are more likely to go through a gray divorce. If an older couple is experiencing social or economic hardship, or if they are just afraid of a gray divorce, they can work to avoid it. Some practices that could help include working on communication, spending time bonding together, and keeping their marriage a focus even while there are still children in the home. Another part of strengthening marriage to avoid gray divorce is to understand the models of marriage and divorce.
There are two models of marriage in today’s world. The first is the Expressive Individualistic Model, which states that couples only value their marriage if it helps them grow personally and achieves their individual goals. Under this model, individuals would consider gray divorce if they felt that their expressive individualistic goals were not being achieved or if they have experienced long periods of unhappiness with their partners. The second is the Commitment-Based Model of marriage, which states that binding and romantic love will hold couples together unless there is a severe strain on the relationship. Couples who fit into this model tended to experience gray divorce when they were experiencing severe relationship strain.
Marital problems are common and happen for a variety of reasons. Some examples are flawed reasoning to initially marry, physical/emotional abuse, or communication problems. Other challenges that could lead to divorce are lack of emotional mutuality, affairs, and alternative relationships. Once a couple gets divorced, their life can change dramatically.
Adults who go through gray divorces face many new challenges, including deciding to date again and finding a new partner for economic and health benefits and social ties. According to a 2019 study, 22 percent of women and 37 percent of men re-partnered within ten years of gray divorce. Re-partnering could mean being remarried or cohabitating. Re-partnering through cohabiting occurred more than remarriage, especially for men. Surprisingly, the rate of divorce is 2.5 times higher for those that have been remarried.
More research needs to be done on the gray divorce. It is an important topic of study for individuals going through a gray divorce or supporting others experiencing marital strain that could lead to divorce.
Logan Nuttall is a senior at Brigham Young University. Connect with Logan via email.