When you imagine a divorce you probably think of a young couple. The stereotypical image is often of two people who decided to get married too early and ultimately grew apart. Most people do not think about couples who have been together for multiple decades separating late in their lives as the poster for divorce. That said, these situations do commonly occur.

Grey divorce is a term for the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate between elderly couples from long-lasting marriages. “Grey” refers to grey-haired, signifying a separation between older people. It became a commonly used term in the United States in 2004 but has been part of family law practices for several decades.

While the overall divorce rate has dropped in recent years, grey divorce appears to be rising at an alarming rate.

Rising rate

Grey divorces used to be very uncommon. In the 1990s, only one in five people over the age of 50 were divorced. Fast-forward to the present, and the grey divorce rate has skyrocketed to one in four people. It’s a shocking turn of events for a demographic that previously hardly made a blip on the divorce radar. Furthermore, the data suggests that this trend is likely to continue for a handful of reasons.

Times are changing

In the past, getting a divorce was not necessarily a socially acceptable practice. While the stigma did not stop people from separating, it appears to have had a significant effect on older couples. Much of this opinion was a result of the religious beliefs. This judgment has changed in recent years, allowing for elderly people to seemingly feel more comfortable separating from an unhealthy marriage.

The average life expectancy has also jumped in present society, which has influenced the divorce rate. People are now more likely to end an empty marriage in the latter years of their life due to the likelihood that they often still have multiple decades to live.

Naturally, grey divorces also occur for the same reasons as standard divorces. Everything from growing apart to infidelity may play a role in a grey divorce. However, instead of working through these issues as this demographic has in the past, older people now feel more comfortable ending their relationships.

Grey divorce no longer is an uncommon practice but instead represents a sizable shift in how unhappy relationships may resolve in contemporary society.

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