Gray Divorce: A Phenomenon on the Rise

The gray divorce is one that occurs after 50 years of age. What else do we know about this phenomenon?
Gray Divorce: A Phenomenon on the Rise

Last update: 07 October, 2021

Gray divorce occurs in people over 50 who’ve often been together for a long time. The term originates from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

In the US this is a phenomenon on the rise. In fact, according to a study led by Susan L. Brown, published in The Journals of Gerontology, the divorce rate in people over 55 years of age doubled between 1990 and 2010. That means that approximately one in four divorces in 2010 occurred in people over 50 years of age.

However, what else do we know about this phenomenon?

Gray divorce

Also known as a silver or diamond divorce, it refers to the tendency of marriages of adults “with gray hair” (aged 50 years or more) to end, having spent many years together as a couple.

This is a trend that’s going strong in countries like the United States. However, it’s also happening in the rest of the world. in fact, Sonia Abadi, doctor, psychoanalyst, and researcher affirms that we see more divorces in couples over 60 years old, and this is a universal phenomenon “.

Origin of the concept

Where did the concept of “gray divorce” come from? As a matter of fact, it was the American Association of Retired Persons that coined this term in 2004, with the publication of a study on divorce in middle age and beyond.

Years later, in 2012, researchers from Bowling Green State University called this phenomenon the “gray divorce revolution.”

Examples of gray divorce

There are a number of celebrity couples who’ve experienced gray divorces. For example, the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and his now ex-wife, the American businesswoman Melinda Ann French Gates. They separated after 27 years of marriage.

Also, the former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, and his now ex-wife, Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson separated after 40 years together.

The gray divorce phenomenon in the United States

Divorce among people aged 50 and older in the US doubled between 1999 and 2010. In fact, the rate increased from 0.5 percent to 1 percent annually.

A generation ago, less than ten percent of marital breakdowns involved a spouse over 50. However, nowadays, more than one in four people in the US who get divorced are over 50 years old.

Although over the past 40 years, the overall divorce rate in the US has declined, this reduction isn’t homogeneous. In fact, divorces among the youngest have been reduced, but divorces among older adults have increased. That’s the phenomenon of gray divorce.

Causes of divorces

According to Marta Ibáñez, a psychologist specializing in sexual and couples therapy, the main causes of divorce are as follows:

  • Lack of communication in the couple.
  • Feeling of “being trapped”.
  • Failure of meeting expectations.
  • Extremely different personalities (or rather, incompatible).
  • Changing priorities.
  • Lack of trust in the partner.
  • Infidelity

Logically, in gray divorce, these causes tend to intensify (due to time) and, therefore, have a greater effect on the relationship, which ends up leading to divorce.

Thus, the passage of time, the routine, the wear and tear of the relationship, the greater probability of meeting a third person or of being unfaithful are all factors that are of particular influence in the case of a gray divorce.

Older couple thinking about gray divorce

Aspects to consider in a gray divorce

There are some aspects of particular relevance in a gray divorce. These are the following:

  • Alimony: Alimony payments are more common in gray divorces.
  • Retirement accounts – These can be seriously impacted during a divorce.
  • Children: They’re usually adult children, but they also suffer the emotional consequences of divorce.
  • Prenuptial contracts: They allow spouses to divide their assets in writing, and must be taken into account during a divorce.
  • Rejoin life and remarry: It’s important to prepare for the new dynamics of a relationship.

In reality, divorces occur at all ages. However, there’s currently a definite boom in divorce in the over-fifties in the United States.

The causes of divorce could be the same at any age. However, the passage of time, greater economic independence (especially in women) than long ago, and the search for personal fulfillment are factors that tend to particularly influence gray divorce. Furthermore, the fact of having parents who also divorced can be an influence as well.

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  • Brown, S. & Lin, I. (2012). The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults, 1990–2010. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci, 67(6): 731–741.
  • Chavarría, L. et al. (s.f.). El divorcio: tipos, causas y consecuencias en los hijos. Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila.