At a time when divorce is becoming less common for millennials, so-called “gray divorce” is on the rise for older generations of Americans.
According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate for those 50 and older has roughly doubled since 1990, far more than any other age group.
According to the study, divorces among those 40-49 rose 14%, but they fell by 21% in 25-39-year-olds.
“During the whole process, while we were married, I found out my husband was online dating,” said Jill Story, a woman in her mid-40s, who divorced her husband in 2017.
The rise in older generations is spurred by a host of various factors, including changing stigmas surrounding divorce. Women are more empowered and educated, which has offered them more freedom to walk away from emotionally draining situations.
Life expectancy has also risen, prompting more people to question whether their marriage or union is right for them over the long term. For a 50-year-old woman, her marriage might last another 30 years, possibly even longer, so it ups the stakes for those in unhappy marriages to find a better situation.
But still, there are considerable financial struggles that plague women more than men post-divorce.
According to a December 2021 study published by the National Institutes of Health, women experienced a 45% decline in their standard of living, whereas men’s dropped by just 21%. The study says it "offers a cautionary tale about the financial aftermath of gray divorce, which is likely to contribute to growing economic disadvantage among older adults.”
That statement is supported by research from the Social Security Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, which found “around 20 percent of divorced women aged 65 or older live in poverty, compared with 18 percent of never-married women and 15 percent of widowed women. Differences in poverty rates are even larger at the oldest ages—22 percent of divorced women aged 80 or older are poor, compared with only 17 percent of never-married women and 15 percent of widowed women.”
“For me, it was really scary,” said Story. “I felt a component of shame because I was a professional woman. I have two master’s degrees- I have a master’s degree in education and I have a law degree and something like that shouldn’t happen to someone like me.”