Marriages used to last forever. At least that’s how it seems.
My parents, for instance, will soon celebrate their 57th anniversary. Congratulations to them – that’s an amazing record of marital longevity.
But decades-long marriages like theirs are becoming more rare. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, recently had an article that said the divorce rate for people 50 and older had doubled in the past two decades.
It referenced a study called “The Gray Divorce Revolution” by two sociologists at Bowling Green State University. In 2009 alone, more than 600,000 people ages 50 and older got divorced.
The professors’ research focused on couples who had been married for many years before divorcing. Many had split after their last child left home.
Sound familiar? If this scenario doesn’t describe you, you probably know some empty-nester baby boomers whom it fits.
“The trend defies any simple explanation,” the Wall Street Journal article says of the rising divorce rate among 50somethings. “But it springs at least in part from boomers’ status as the first generation to enter into marriage with goals largely focused on self-fulfillment.”
Ah. Think about that. People my parents’ age – in their 70s and 80s – tend to see themselves as couples rather than two individuals, I believe. So they’re more inclined to weather the inevitable ups and downs of marriage.
Are all people who have been married 50 years or more happy? Of course not. But I think they deserve credit for sticking it out, whereas people of the next generation – such as myself – had much less tolerance for a rotten marriage.
When the kids are gone, some marriage die
“With the children out of the house, boomers in unhappy marriages often look at each other and think, ‘I may have 25 to 35 years to live. Do I want to spend it with this person,” says Deidre Bair, author of Calling it Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over, in the Wall Street Journal article.
When divorce happens after 50, some people struggle to regain financial security.
“Keep in mind that many consequences of divorcing later in life revolve around one fact: less time to recover financially, recoup losses, retire debt and ride the waves of booms and busts,” says Janice Green, an Austin attorney and author of Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges.
She is quoted in a recent AARP article on rising divorces among the 50-and-older set. It focuses on the ways some divorced people make ends meet.
Some people rent out part of their house to make money. Some move in with their parents or other relatives.
The article mentioned an interesting new trend. Some “villages” have emerged where older people live alone but in close proximity to one another. For an annual fee, they have access to meals, social events, trips and even home repairs.
“I enjoyed the companionship, and it was a financial relief,” one woman says in the article.
Getting older presents many challenges, including financial and health considerations. When you don’t have a spouse, you can find yourself facing difficult issues alone.
Divorcees who are 50 and older, such as myself, need to look down the road. If we’re single, how will we take care of ourselves?
Should we consider remarrying so we won’t be alone? Should we build a close network of friends and relatives to help us if we remain alone?
I don’t think people who are single – at any age – are necessarily less happy than those who are married. But we don’t have a partner to watch out for us and vice versa.
Most people look forward to their retirement years. If you’re single, you don’t have to be miserable. But you do need to be more proactive in planning how you’ll take care of yourself.