Friday, January 15, 2016

The Rising Impact of Unpartnered Older Adults and "Gray Divorce"

Recently, several attorneys pointed me to an interesting report on "Marital Biography, Social Security Receipt and Poverty," by sociology researchers at Bowling Green State University.  The abstract explains:

Increasingly, older adults are unmarried, which could mean a larger share is at risk of economic disadvantage. Using data from the 2010 Health and Retirement Study, we chart the diverse range of marital biographies, capturing marital sequences and timing, of adults who are age eligible for Social Security and examine three indicators of economic well-being: Social Security receipt, Social Security benefit levels, and poverty status. . . . Among singles, economic well-being varies by marital biography and gender. Gray divorced and never-married women face considerable economic insecurity.

From the body of body of the study more information emerges about the phenomenon of "gray divorce," those occurring after age 50, which has "doubled since 1990 even though the overall U.S. divorce rate remains stable."  The authors continue (with citations omitted here): 

The timing of marital dissolution in the adult life course may have implications for postdivorce adjustment, including late life economic well-being. Divorce tends to be more normative at younger ages whereas widowhood becomes increasingly likely with age. From a life course perspective, the timing of an event can magnify or reduce its influence on well-being. Off-time events are associated with poorer outcomes than on-time events. Thus, divorce prior to age 50 may be less detrimental to economic well-being than divorce after age 50. Those who divorce earlier in adulthood have more time to recoup the financial losses divorce usually entails. In contrast, those who divorce later have fewer years of working life remaining and may not be able to fully recover economically from a gray divorce. Indeed, gray divorce appears to diminish wealth more than an earlier divorce. Similarly, widowhood prior to age 50 is an off-time event that is not a normative life course experience. Young widows are more likely to become poor compared with older widows. Couples tend to be overly optimistic about the likelihood they both will survive to an old age. Thus they may not have adequately planned for this unlikely possibility and ultimately may be less able to recover fully.

Ultimately, from their research it appears that comparatively higher rates of poverty are associated with unmarried status as you age, but, particularly for women, late-in-life divorce may further increase the likelihood of poverty.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/elder_law/2016/01/the-rising-impact-of-unpartnered-older-adults-and-gray-divorce.html

Retirement, Social Security, Statistics | Permalink

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