Explaining the later life divorce trend.

New York Life | June 9, 2021

Upset senior couple sitting on sofa together and looking to opposite sides with arms crossed

Love doesn’t always last forever, but you’d think that couples who’ve been married 20, 30 or even 40 years were solid as a rock. That’s why it can be a surprise to see couples in their 50s, 60s, and 70s announce their separation.

“Why now, after all this time?” we might ask ourselves. However, while there have been some recent high-profile splits, “Gray Divorces” – the term referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older couples in long-lasting marriages – are a more common phenomenon than we might think.

From baby boom to bust

According to the US 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.1   And, according to the Pew Research Center, a significant share of later life divorces occur among couples who have been married for 30 years or more.2   

So why are so many baby boomer marriages breaking down? There are a number of reasons for the rising divorce rates, so much so that it’s difficult to pinpoint any one contributing cause.

Today, there is much less stigma associated with divorce. There’s also some truth in the clichés of husbands of a certain age leaving their wives for younger women but identity crises are not exclusive to men. “Empty nesters” who are suddenly free of the responsibilities of bringing up their children find themselves without their long-held role in life. Most people also get this feeling upon retirement. “What now?” For some, it simply means taking up golf; for others, questioning everything in life, including marriage.

Now or never?

People often feel the psychological pressure of “now or never,” a sense of needing to find fulfilment in life before it’s too late. For some, this could mean exploring a new direction in life on their own. News of famous senior couples separating also serves to normalize later life divorce, making it more socially acceptable to be a “Silver Splitter (an alliterative term for someone who divorces or separates from his/her partner  later in life)” and emboldening people to take that leap towards a new life.

Pandemic pressures

COVID-19 has also exacerbated many challenges, from the financial to the emotional, forcing many people to make major lifestyle changes – even divorce.

Last year, it was predicted that the pandemic would cause an increase in the divorce rate as research revealed3 an increase in divorce enquiries. 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, only to realize they don’t actually have much in common. The pressure of coping with life in such an unprecedented time has been too much for some marriages to withstand.

Financially independent women

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

Today, women are well-established in the workforce, and now have the income they need to survive on their own, if they decide to leave their marriages.

Being prepared for life

Planning for your finances revolves around life’s major events, from marriage to mortgage to retirement, and being prepared for life means protecting ourselves 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.

1“Love and Loss Among Older Adults.” United States Census Bureau. Gurrentz, Benjamin and Mayol-Garcia, Yeris. April 22, 2021. Accessed 28 May, 2021

2“Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population.” Stepler, Renee. March 9, 2017. Accessed 27 May, 2021.

3US Divorce Rates Soar During COVID-19 Crisis.” Moric, Mollie. July 29, 2020. Accessed 27 May, 2021.


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Media contact

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