While divorce has mostly leveled off or decreased across age groups, so-called "gray divorce" continues to increase. Bowling Green State University researchers said twice as many people over age 50 divorced in 2014, compared to 1990.
And senior citizens are not the only people who ponder divorce, at least sometimes. An analysis on a survey done by Brigham Young University researchers finds that more than half of younger married adults, ages 25 to 50, have thought about divorce "at some point."
That older couples are often in second marriages is one possible explanation offered in an article in The New York Times, which cites data showing that divorce is two-and-a-half times more likely in second marriages than in first marriages.
Other factors may also contribute, including an increased lifespan that means those 50 years and older may look farther into the future than they used to when making life decisions. "Now, let’s say you’re 50 or 60. You could go 30 more years. A lot of marriages are not horrible, but they’re no longer satisfying or loving. They may not be ugly, but you say, ‘Do I really want 30 more years of this?’” Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the Times.
The researchers have been tracking the phenomenon of older couples divorcing for some time. In 2012, one researcher, Susan Brown, a sociologist and associate director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green, told the Deseret News that finances are often a barrier to divorce, but "older Americans tend to be better off than younger Americans," so they may better afford divorce.
Last year, Brown and colleague I-Fen Lin wrote for a Council on Contemporary Families online symposium that the jump in divorces among older Americans partially "reflects the shifting meaning of marriage in contemporary America. Today, most people hold marriage to a higher standard than in the past. Being a good provider or a good homemaker is not enough. Spouses are supposed to be best friends and confidantes. Marriage should be a source of personal happiness and fulfillment. If spouses no longer derive satisfaction from their marriage, divorce is seen as a viable solution and carries far less social stigma (than in) the past."
Meanwhile, the research on divorce contemplation — featured by the Institute for Family Studies and called "What Are They Thinking? A National Survey of Married Individuals Who Are Thinking About Divorce," — was sponsored by BYU's Family Studies Center as part of the multi-institution National Divorce Decision-Making Project. It found that most spouses who have thought about it do conclude they would rather do the work needed to stay married than seek divorce.
And they're typically glad that they did make that marriage-preserving choice, according to a blog post for the Institute for Family Studies by two of the study's authors, Alan J. Hawkins and Sage E. Allen of BYU.
They described "two distinct groups of spouses considering divorce. One group was much more likely to be thinking about divorce frequently. In addition, they had higher levels of problems in their marriages, both the more common as well as the more severe kinds. They were less hopeful about the future of their relationship than the other group. Moreover, they were much more likely to say they were done with the marriage (although this was still a small proportion of the group) or to say they had mixed feelings about a divorce. The label serious thinkers fits this group well."
Of the second category considering divorce, they wrote: "In contrast, nearly 90 percent of the other group said they had thought about divorce only a few times in the last six months; only 1 percent said they had been thinking about it a lot. This group reported lower levels of marital problems of all types, and they were more hopeful about the prospects for their marriage. Also, they were almost three times as likely as serious thinkers to say that they did not want a divorce and were willing to work hard to keep the marriage together. We labeled this second group soft thinkers. ('Soft' thinking isn’t necessarily fleeting or painless, however: in our in-depth interviews we discovered that soft thinkers can still be confused, discouraged, and hurting.)"
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