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Late-life Divorce on the Rise

Divorces by people age 50 and older are not extremely common, but are happening more often that they used to. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, people age 50 and above were twice as likely to go through a divorce in 2014 than they were in 1990. After Full Lives Together, More Older Couples are Divorcing, by Abby Ellin, nytimes.com, October 30, 2015. The increase was even higher for those 65 and older.

There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon. First, divorce does not have the same stigma it once had when these couples were younger. It could be that they wanted to divorce earlier, but didn’t want to deal with the disgrace from family and friends. Second, children have grown and are likely out of the house. For people who may have been staying married to spare their young children the stress of a divorce, this reason no longer exists. Another reason is that many older adults are in second (or third) marriages.  The divorce rate for these marriages is higher than that of first marriages and these marriages naturally occur later in life, after a first marriage ends. In addition, people are living much longer than they used to. Life expectancy has increased and, thus, at age 60, people may no longer want to spend another 20-30 years with that person. They may be less willing to remain in an “adequate” marriage knowing they are going to live a lot longer.

Even celebrities are getting into late life divorces. Patti LaBelle and her husband, Armstead Edwards recently divorced after being married for over 30 years. Why Patti LaBelle And Her Husband Divorced After 3 Decades Together, by Lisa Capretto, The Huffington Post, January 19, 2016. LaBelle says the parties never fought, but just decided that they couldn’t live together anymore. After being married for so long, they have been able to salvage a close friendship and remain on good terms. Perhaps this is one benefit of late life divorces – you’ve been together long enough that you don’t want to completely cut each other out, which can result in a nice friendship. 

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