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Can you trust the headlines about older people and divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 24, 2020 | Divorce |

You may have seen a few startling headlines this year about a raging epidemic of divorce among older people. Stories of skyrocketing rates of so-called “gray divorce” made it seem like experienced married couples do not stand a chance.

Is your marriage doomed just because you are over 55? And if you are divorcing, you know how individual, real and personal it feels. Nobody likes to think of their experience as just part of a fad or demographic blip.

Obviously, we need a closer look at those numbers behind the headlines.

Older divorces rates rising, but are is still low

Stories in the Wall Street Journal and many other venues like the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported increases in older divorces. All these articles quoted a story from the Pew Research Center, which mostly cites information published years ago. The news is not very new.

However, the data is accurate, as far as it goes.

At the end of 1990, if you had asked 1000 people over the age of 55 if they had gotten divorced that year, five people could say they had.

Twenty-five years later, in 2015, the number would have more than doubled to 10 divorces for every 1,000 people over 55.

On the other hand, the divorce rates for younger people during that entire 25-year period remained between 18 and 30 for every 1,000 people.

In other words, while the rise for older people was notable, they are still more likely to stay married than younger couples.

A few reasonable reasons for changing divorce rates

For people who are 25 to 39, the divorce rate dropped by six people in every 1000 during those same 25 years.

However, more and more people in that age range are putting off marriage until they are much older. Naturally, it is hard to get divorced between 25 and 39 when you wait until you are 40 to get married for the first time.

Also, consider the baby boomers, who were roughly 50 to 70 at the end of those 25 years in question.

Their divorce rate when they were youngsters was exceedingly high. So, many were on their second marriage between 1990 and 2015. And second marriages, statistically, are much more likely to end in divorce. So, the rising rate of divorce in older people is partly from a “bulge” of second marriages moving into that age group.

The original Pew Research Center article offers quite a few similar insights.