Grey divorce is a term originally coined to refer to the increasing divorce rate for older (‘grey-haired’) couples in long-lasting marriages. Initially, the term was used for couples over the age of 40 but with life span slowly increasing and 40-year-olds no longer considered ‘grey’, it is more apt now to use the phrase for the over 60s.
As divorce is adapting to a modern society, grey divorce now no longer refers only to couples who have been together from the outset, and is now used as an umbrella term for many different types of divorces. There are grey divorces from first marriages, second marriages and so on. Some involve adult children, some minor children and some involve no children at all. A divorce could happen because of an affair, because one or both parties have been miserable but too scared to get divorced or for many other reasons. In short, the term ‘grey divorce’ is now more encompassing than it once was.
Grey divorce, however you look at it, is on the rise. There was a dramatic 73% increase in divorces granted to men aged 60 and over between 1991 and 2011 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Since this time, the number of divorces granted to people over 60 has remained at this high point with the statistics from the ONS showing that there were 8,697 divorces among men over 60 and 5,554 among women over 60 in 2015. There are many different theories for why this is the case including the decline of traditional views on marriage and greater female financial independence.
It is not uncommon for couples to divorce only after the children leave for university or move into their own place. A big part of this is that parents do not want to disrupt their child’s life and routine and believe that their separation would make the child unhappy. This is a difficult decision for parents to make and can be a large factor in why divorce rates in the over 60s is rising. Equally when the children fly the nest, couples sometimes realise that they have very little in common- a fact that is amplified when they spend more time together in retirement.
The financial aspect of waiting for children to move out, as well as the emotional aspect, is a big consideration. For over 60s considering a divorce, financial considerations can be of heightened importance. A divorce can alter someone’s financial situation, sometimes quite drastically, and for those over the age of 60, the chance of an individual dramatically improving their financial situation is significantly less than that of someone who divorces at a younger age. It is unlikely that any dramatic increase of income will occur at this age and often retirement is looming and a change in financial situation is imminent. Because of this, those looking to divorce may choose to wait until their children are over 18 as “divorce is less of a strain financially when there is no child maintenance to worry about. Another reason that the divorce rates for those over 60 is rising is that the taboo surrounding divorce is disappearing and more people are focusing on individual happiness as opposed to the tradition of marriage providing emotional security. Looking at the statistics, it is striking that the couples who are divorcing married in the 1970s: the last generation when marriage was still the norm. In these years, cohabitation was not a viable option like it is now and divorce carried much more of a stigma. Now that there is less shame associated with divorce, couples are more inclined leave loveless relationships that ordinarily they would have endured for the sake of social acceptance.
With the length of our lives increasing, children flying the nest and a less traditional view of marriage taken by many, it follows that the divorce rate in the over 60s is increasing. Considering the wealth of opportunities available to older generations these days, it is perhaps no bad thing that more people are choosing to make such a decision and embarking on a new stage of their life.
Aisling O’Reilly – Vardags
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