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The Gray Divorces

All those empty nests are getting emptier, according to a new study that found that the divorce rate has doubled in the last two decades among Americans over 50.

Those findings were reported in “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” a study by two Ball State sociologists. While the empty nest seemed an immediate cause to blame, A Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote an article on the study blamed other causes ranging from increased longevity, a change in attitude toward marriage as an “intuition” and the emphasis on “personal happiness” by baby boomers.

A sidebar article, “What Are the Risk Factors,”  probed deeper into the statistics and found that part of the spike can be attributed to baby boomers who are divorcing for the second time: “Second and subsequent marriages have a 150% greater chance of ending in divorce than do first marriages.”

Length of marriage is also a factor with almost half of the divorce among couples married 20 years or less. Among still- married couples more than 60 percent had been married more than 30 years.

One of the most troubling results of the study was the prediction of difficult financial issues, especially for women. In a related New York Time article, William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, warned:

Many unmarried baby boomers will confront greater economic hardships than their married parents and grandparents, and their married counterparts. Many members of this generation, which has been battered by the recession, have fewer children and thinner financial cushions in savings and pensions.

“It means a whole different world for seniors,” Mr. Frey said.

As noted by a psychologist in last week’s post, the “balance of power” in parent-adult children relationships shifts, especially when parents can no longer fully care for themselves. Will the later life divorces cause aging baby boomers to become dependent on adult children for assistance, ranging from emotional to economic, exactly what they did not want to do?

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