As reported here, the divorce rate among Americans aged 50+ is more than double that of any other age group. In 2020, 54% of Americans who filed for a divorce were over 50.
The trend has been known for a long time (the term “grey divorce” was coined about 10 years ago) but and it shows no signs of letting up.
The trend brings into play two possibly conflicting forces.
In the past, couples who had tolerated a difficult or even unacceptable marriage (possibly “for the sake of the children” or for career or financial reasons), had fewer reasons to strike out on their own if they believed they didn’t have all that many years left. But today a 65-year-old can realistically aspired to another 20 or 30 years of lifespan, maybe more. Behold the SuperAging revolution! As people anticipate longer future lifespans, their willingness to tolerate an unsatisfactory marriage drops accordingly.
As we point out in our book: “Staying in a bad marriage means putting up with another 20-30 years. Not a small matter. Or put it the other way around: you could have a happy second marriage that lasts three decades or longer.”
Longevity is definitely a driver of this trend.
On the other hand…living alone.
From the article: “In the US, there were around 16 million adults 65 and older who lived alone in 2022, which is three times more than there were in the 1960s, according to CNN. This figure is anticipated to increase as Baby Boomers age, generating serious concerns about the future of the nation.” According to the article, over 50 percent of people end up living alone in the initial years following a grey divorce.
If “living alone” leads to “loneliness,” we know it has a big negative impact on longevity. Loneliness or social isolation has been shown to increase stress, which in turn increases inflammation and can produce serious negative health consequences.
But does “grey divorce” automatically lead to loneliness? According to the article, the percentage of seniors living alone has remained relatively stable, at about 28 percent. But of course, as more people live longer, the absolute number of seniors living alone will continue to increase — some of this due to “grey divorce” and some due to death of a spouse.
So there’s definitely a concern about that absolute number, and there are serious (and justified) anxieties about the implications for public health and other social policy. The number of single-person households led by someone over the age of 75 is expected to exceed 14 million by 2038, according to projections from Harvard’s Joint Centre for Housing Studies.
Not surprisingly, the article reports, “Researchers and campaigners are working to find solutions to aid ageing people living alone before it’s too late, because of the well-established and significant health implications linked to loneliness and social isolation.”
The article quotes Markus Schafer, a sociology professor at Baylor University: “There’s a lot of innovation and startup money for robo-companionship – things like robotic dogs, the metaverse and artificial intelligence. This is really taking off in Japan. They’re kind of showing us what the future of ageing may look like here.”
The leveraging of technology to mitigate loneliness and social isolation is an important component of the SuperAging toolkit, and we have a lot of material about it in our book. Be sure that we will be watching it closely here, and tracking the many new developments.