Grey divorce: Why are more baby boomers ending their marriages when they get older?

Whether you call them “silver splitters” or “diamond divorcees,” more and more baby boomers are getting divorced when you’d expect them to settle into retirement together.

Researchers have documented sharp increases in “grey divorce” rates among boomers in the U.S.AustraliaIndia and the U.K.. And some experts believe Canada is following the same trend, noting longer lives don’t always translate to longer marriages.

“I think a lot of times people are quite floored when they see a 75-year-old who wants a divorce,” says Diana Isaac, a family lawyer at Shulman Law Firm based in Toronto. “In my personal experience, I would say that grey divorces are becoming a lot more prevalent.”

Statistics Canada doesn’t record current data on age-based divorce rates. But the most recent stats still show a change. The median age for divorce rose between 1991 to 2008: for men it jumped from 38.3 to 44 years, women jumped from 35.7 to 41 years.

While Canada hasn’t collected this information in a decade, Shulman Law Firm talked to the Post about their own internal data. They say their own numbers suggest grey divorce is on the rise.

A decade ago, about 10 per cent of their clients were 50 and older. But the firm now says the demographic “constitutes approximately 40 per cent.”

Interestingly, the age group of 60 and older saw the most significant change, nearly doubling over the past 10 years — although it still remains the minority of cases at the firm.

“It appears that people are living longer and there is a shift from the age groups for divorces.”

Canadians continue to see a steady increase in how long we’re living. Between 1921 and 2005, we gained about 20 years of life expectancy from 58.8 to 78 years for men and from 60.6 to 82.7 years for women. By 2031, the average life expectancy could rise to 81.9 for men and 86 for women.

As we live longer and longer lives, it may be that we are more aware of how much time we’ll need to spend with our partners — and that might not paint a pretty picture as we reevaluate our relationships later in life.

“Maybe initially they believed that this was the right person. And as you grow older, you may grow apart. And so the way they see it is … I have less in front than there is behind so I need to focus on what’s left of my life and really maximizing my happiness,” Isaac says.

Eva Sachs and Marion Korn are the co-founders of Mutual Solutions, a mediation service to help separating couples make informed decisions on finance and social issues. They also wrote the book When Harry Left Sally. 

“If we have a 30-year marriage, it’s not that we have 10 years left, but we may be only halfway through that marriage,” says Sachs. “People are looking at that and saying ‘I have a long way to go and do I necessarily want to continue in an unhappy relationship?’”

We’ve shed a lot of the stigma around divorce and its easier to meet a new partner online. Getty Images/iStockphoto

With older individuals looking into their relationship, there is less focus on can I manage on my own? and more couples asking am I happy?

In 2014, 69 per cent of couples with children were dual-earner couples, which was up from 36 per cent in 1976.

“They weren’t in the same position that my mother would have been, who didn’t have any financial security outside the family.” said Korn, a former family lawyer herself.

Living longer with a higher quality of life means some people are expecting more from their later years. But there are other reasons divorce could be rising among this age group: we’ve shed a lot of the stigma around divorce and it’s easier to meet a new partner online.

Boomers may also be repeating “marital instability” patterns from their own early years. The Pew Research Centre says that “during their young adulthood, Baby Boomers had unprecedented levels of divorce.” This could be contributing to divorces among them today: Pew Research notes remarriages tend to be less stable than first marriages.

And while millennials are often pinned for being too self-centred around their own happiness, they don’t seem to following in boomers’ footsteps.

“Millennials are less likely to divorce and there is a trend among millennials now to be more focused around planning their relationships, so writing cohabitation agreements, prenuptial agreements,” Korn says. “And it could be because they are the children of divorce, they’ve seen a lot.”

Sierra Bein for the National Post


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