Personal Finance

Why older couples are untying the knot. 

New York Life | April 24, 2023

A couple sitting on opposite ends of the couch looking frustrated

You’d think that after 30 or even 40 years of marriage, divorce would hardly be a consideration. You’ve lived with your partner through good times and bad, for decades ─ why call it a day now?

The reality is that “gray divorces” are on the rise, as more couples in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are announcing their separations.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while the country’s overall divorce rate has been declining since the 1990s, over the same period there has been an upward trend for divorce among adults 50 years or older.

So, what’s driving the “Gray Divorce” phenomenon? 

From Baby Boom to bust

There are numerous reasons why long-term partners are deciding to wind up their marriages. Firstly, there is much less stigma associated with divorce in general.

The Baby Boomer generation grew up in a more permissive society than their parents ─ who may have felt obliged to stay married for the sake of appearances.    

There are also “empty nesters,” those suddenly free of the responsibilities of bringing up their children who find themselves looking for a new role or challenge in in life. This may not include space for their partner.    

Now or never

Those approaching retirement might ask: “What now?” For some, it might simply mean taking up golf. Others might question everything in life, including their marriage.

News of famous older couples separating – like Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness last year after nearly three decades of marriage – also serves to normalize later-life divorce, making it more socially acceptable and emboldening people to take that leap toward a new life.

Financial pressure

One of the most common financial reasons for divorce relates to how each partner manages money. In retirement, monthly income might fall, but what if one partner continues to overspend, ignoring the tighter budget?

Spending heavily on luxury items and running up the bill on joint credit cards (without informing the partner) is a recipe for disaster and could even lead to divorce.2

Lifestyle differences can create intense pressure within a marriage ─ especially if debts begin to mount. Only one spouse being responsible for making money decisions can also create resentment and mistrust. 

Post-pandemic breakups

COVID-19 lockdowns put huge pressure on couples ─ both emotional and financial. Long-married couples, who in pre-pandemic times had lived pretty much separate lives due to career commitments, suddenly found themselves having to spend most of their time together. Many realized they didn’t have much in common.

The pressure of coping with life in such an unprecedented time proved too much for some marriages to withstand. There was a marked spike in divorce rates in the U.S. during the pandemic ─ up 34%.3  The work-from-home culture that has taken root post-pandemic will continue to put pressure on couples as they spend prolonged periods in the same space.  

Financially independent women

Financial insecurity can be a reason for staying in an unhappy marriage. In previous generations, women were far less likely to work outside the home and were often dependent on their spouses for financial security.

Although gender inequality is still widespread, things have changed, and millions of women are now well-established in the workforce and have their own income.  With decades-long careers behind them and financial independence, they can comfortably manage on their own if their marriage is not working.  

Being prepared for life

Shrewd financial strategy  means factoring in all life’s major events from marriage to mortgage to retirement. Being prepared for life means protecting against the unexpected, but how many of us plan for the possibility of divorce in later life?

At New York Life, our financial professionals can help you successfully navigate life’s biggest choices, whatever challenges life brings us.


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Media contact

Kevin Maher
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-7937