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Study: Marriage: Older Adults Calling It Quits


The chances of being old and newly single are increasing.

In the past 20 years, the divorce rate for those over 50 has doubled in the United States according to new research by Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

In 2010, roughly one in four people getting divorces were aged 50 or older: in 1990, that number was one in 10.

Although the overall divorce rate is holding steady, the rate of "grey divorce" is rising sharply.

The odds of divorce are 12 per cent higher for women than men.

And based on current trends, researchers predict the number of divorces for people over 50 could top 800,000 in 2030.

The study, The Grey Divorce Revolution, was published online in Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Science and Social Sciences on Oct. 9, 2012.

So what’s going on?
calling it quits
The rise in late-life divorce is a product of dramatic shifts in the meaning of marriage over the last-half century.

One 2007 Canadian study suggests we live in an era of individualized marriage. So today, those who wed expect marriage to provide them not simply with stability and security, but also with self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction.

In Ottawa, the chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family told CTV Ottawa News, that part of the decision to divorce after so many years is based on the fact we’re living longer.

"So you’ve got more time to think about what kind of companion do I want to have in those last 20 years of life," Nora Spinks said. "What kind of caregiving do I want to give and what do I want to receive."

Spink’s remarks echo findings by Deirdre Bair, biographer of Carl Jung, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett. Bair interviewed 126 men and 184 women for her 2007 book Calling it Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over (Random House).

Bair, whose own marriage ended in divorce after 43 years, talked to ex-wives, ex-husbands and their adult children. They answered questions about how they had come to believe divorce was their only option.

Most of the participants were in their 50s, but they ranged in age up to 85. Some were ending 40-year and even 60-year marriages.

The interviews revealed marriage splits were motivated less frequently by secret affairs as they were by such intangibles as "freedom," or "more control" over their lives.

The author found some men and women abandoned long-term marriages because they "could not go on living the same old life in the same old rut with the same old boring person."

Mindful of the clock ticking down, participants wanted a chance to live a more satisfying life in their later years, even when it meant less financial security.

"It’s my time and if I don’t take it now, I never will" was a statement Bair heard often.