“Gray Divorce” on the Rise in America, Says Pew

Divorce among the 50-and-over set remains relatively uncommon according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, but the rate of splits in that age group is rising faster than all others.

At first blush, the numbers seem shocking: Divorce rates more than doubled among Americans aged 50 and older between 1990 and 2015, and just about tripled over that span for those older than 65. The gaudy percentages, however, are the result of the small numbers at play. Out of every 1,000 married people age 50 and up, five got divorced in 1990, as opposed to 10 out of every 1,000 in 2015.

For folks older than 65, those numbers rose from about two in 1,000 back in 1990 to six in 1,000 by 2015.

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Pew points the finger squarely at the aging baby boomer population, drawing parallels between their generation’s “unprecedented levels of divorce” during the 1970s and 1980s to the rising rates of “gray divorce” as they age.

“Their marital instability earlier in life is contributing to the rising divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older today, since remarriages tend to be less stable than first marriages,” Pew said in its analysis. “The divorce rate for adults ages 50 and older in remarriages is double the rate of those who have only been married once.”

Those divorce stats still pale in comparison to those in younger generations: For instance, 24 out of every 1,000 married people aged 25 to 39 got divorced in 2015, down from 30 back at the start of the 1990s. Among their counterparts in the 40-49 age bracket, that number was 21 out of 1,000 in 2015, up from 16 in 1990.

Pew speculates that the downward trend among younger couples corresponds the rising overall age of first marriage. According to a separate set of data, the median age of first marriage for men rose from 26.1 in 1990 to 29.5 last year; for women, the change was 23.9 to 27.4. 

“In addition, those who do end up marrying are more likely to be college-educated, and research shows that college-educated adults have a lower rate of divorce,” the Pew report said.

The trends could be of interest to those who work in the reverse mortgage space, as later-in-life splits could result in the loss of significant hard financial assets — and potentially prompt spouses who received the house in a divorce to explore their home equity as a retirement funding solution. As RMD reported earlier this month, the topic of divorced women and reverse mortgages will be discussed at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association’s Eastern conference and exposition in early April.

Written by Alex Spanko