While the divorce rate has been at a steady simmer across most sectors of the US for years, the surprising and unsettling fact is: the divorce rate for Baby Boomers has been steadily rising since 2004
. If you were born between 1946 and 1965 you are a “Boomer” and you continue to change the world as we know it. The oldest Boomers just began to turn 65 in 2011 and over the next 18 years as they each cross this invisible finish line they will shift the balance of the entire world population. In 2000, just 12.4 percent of the American population was 65 or older. By the time the last Boomer turns 65 in 2030, there will be approximately 89 million Americans over 65. With longevity on the rise, some predict this estimate will be even higher, but all agree: with the number of Americans over 65 more than doubling in just 30 years the Boomers are redefining what it means to be “old.” (http://transgenerational.org/aging/demographics.htm#ixzz1ywKqSvup
Most Boomers have been working toward, and planning for, the “happily ever after” part of their life. They are looking forward to both leisure and new adventures in their retirement. For most this vision includes their spouse of several decades, but a shocking number are calling it quits. So why is the greying of America leading to a rise in divorce? A rise so evident, it’s spawned it’s own label: “Grey Divorce?”
Many of the factors and pressures on Boomer marriages are not new to long term marriages at all, but the social conventions and attitudes about divorce have changed in large part because Boomers values have changed the way Americans view marriage and divorce. Authors Smith and Clurman in: “Generation Ageless”
discuss how the sub group of Boomers they call “Maximizers are the driving force of change. Maximizers” are the most enthusiastic Boomer segment. They want more of everything and they want more out of everything.” (p. 188) . Boomers demand relevance, question tradition and authority, want instant remedies, participation, acceptance, informality, flexibility and don’t tolerate lack of commitment or enthusiasm well. Boomers’ high expectations of themselves have become high expectations of their marriages.The Boomers may not have set out to change the face of marriage but, their independent non-traditional way of approaching he world has erased the social stigma once associated with divorce and the sheer numbers mean they are not as likely to be alone as they once were.
They wake up one day, look at the other over coffee, one with a Kindle in hand, one knitting, and wonder, can I spend the rest of my life with this person? What each values may have significantly changed along the way. While they both want to be happy, what will bring happiness is where the rift can become a chasm. Many Boomers divided the household into breadwinner and homemaker and the very separate roles they took on divided them and caused them to grow apart. They were so busy being human doings they neglected to check in, connect, nurture their relationship, take time out for intimacy, and now they may find they have no common interests to bond them, few friends the other wants to socialize with, and may have different expectations of intimacy, different desires for engagement with their children or grandchildren, and these differences are shaping their goals around retirement. Sometimes health or wellness, including weight gain that interferes with lifestyle choices can be a deal breaker. At 50 or 60, the kids may have left and they realize they have 30 or more years left to fully engage with, and enjoy life and if they can’t find a way to do it together, one will take the kind of risks they are used to as a Boomer and leave.
Will Boomers be able to change the way American’s divorce?
Will Boomers emerging from long term marriages divorce with less carnage, more respect for the roots they have created and move on in ways that allow them each to thrive after divorce? They have to assume they will live so much longer than their parents and yet the stress and lifestyle choices that came with being a hard working Boomer may have taken it’s toll already, meaning for many Americans their longevity is going to cost them. Divorce is perhaps the most costly and emotionally stressful passage a person will struggle through if it’s a drawn out, high conflict battle to the end. If played out in the courts a divorce can jointly squander more than $200,000 of their nest egg, even if settled without a trial, the costs of engaging in fear based conflict can be truly staggering. At a time when the economy has already reduced the average baby Boomer’s net worth by 40%
preservation of wealth is critical to life after divorce. Without children to fight over, with the opportunity for closure and with a mutual desire to preserve wealth, health and key relationships, I think there is hope that forward thinking Boomers, emerging from long term mariages will once again be the agents of change and model a cost conscious, higher integrity method of divorce that could change the way America divorces forever.