Why Are “Gray Divorces” So Prevalent?
Gray divorces, or 55+ divorces, are becoming much more popular in America and there are a number of good reasons for this. Recently, Bill Gates made headlines after announcing he and his wife’s decision to split after 27 years. What’s going on? Are our parents staying together for the wrong reasons?
Society has an image of the correct family that it cannot force over its citizens but encourages in some ways and discourages alternatives. For older Americans, freedom from the constraints of marriage represents a major step into enjoying their retirement. But it’s also a major expense that may not be accounted for in the financials. And still, the majority of gray couples try to stay together or separate.
Gray divorce is not really “gray”
The vast majority of individuals (73%) initiating gray divorces are between the ages of 40 and 49. So, there is some confusion in the terminology, but the trend was started by Boomers and not GenX. The data was calculated on Boomers, so we don’t necessarily have great statistics on how GenX is handling their marriages post-family.
The notion of a post-family marriage is something humans now have to consider with longevity giving us many more years past or familial identities. Fathers and mothers with children away at college and looking to start families of their own get lost in the identity cycle and feel the need to reforge new paths. Once the pressure of children is gone, the mothers and fathers seek out different ways to forge meaning in their lives. Not all of them will choose to do that together. So, it makes sense that some couples would split after they no longer fill the role of parents.
Choice not to divorce
The majority of gray couples stay together. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, new relationships are useless if you’re enjoying the one you’re already in. So, couples who make it past the parent stage of their marriage know what to expect, have developed a loving relationship, and wish to ride it out for as long as possible.
In other cases, the choice not to divorce is financial and couples will agree to separate instead of divorcing. They still get to go out with other people, enjoy their freedom, and do as they please, but they don’t have to pay for a divorce. This can get tricky, but two individuals operating on mutual respect can pull off amazing things.
While it’s easy to blame this on the “mid-life crisis” lampooning men who purchase sports cars and motorcycles in their 40s, it’s important to remember that humans need meaning for their lives to have value and once parenting is over, a new meaning needs to be forged. Not all marriages will survive this process.
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