Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Divorce Rates Rising for Americans 50 and Older

According to a survey released by the United States Census Bureau, 15.4 percent of people 50 and older were divorced and another 2.1 percent were separated in 2011. It’s the first time people above the age of 50 have had more people divorced than widowed (13.5 percent).

Only 2.8 percent of Americans older than 50 were divorced a half-century ago. Since 1990 the divorce rate has doubled, which is significant because half of the married population is older than 50. Experts believe the divorce rate will continue rising as baby boomers live longer.

Increasing divorce rates among this population are concerning because like widowhood, divorce can cause economic hardship for spouses and families. If a divorced spouse is not financially stable coming out of the relationship, children and other family members may feel the burden as well – forced to take them in and help them back on their feet.

Stephanie Coontz, a family history teacher at Evergreen State College, says, “It’s still true that in general the longer you are married, the lower your chance of divorce, but it’s sure no guarantee anymore.” Coontz believes the divorce rate is rising because of baby boomers and the fact that many of them are in their second or third marriage, making them statistically more likely to divorce.

Other experts in the field note additional factors attributing to the rising divorce trend, including the societal acceptance of divorce and the increased occurrence of women who can support themselves. Statistics show that most divorces are initiated by women and this is true for both younger and older populations.

Coontz says, “Women have long been more sensitive to — or less tolerant of — a mediocre relationship than men. And so another big factor is that with their increased work experience and greater sense of their own possibilities, they are less willing to just wait it out.”

In 1990 only 1 in 10 people who divorced were 50 or older. In 2011 more than 1 in 4 divorce cases were among Americans above the age of 50.

This post was researched and written on behalf of Orlando divorce attorney Elaine Barbour.

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Very unfortunate but a relatively high percentage of my clients are 50 years old or older.

Posted by: Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham | Oct 3, 2013 3:00:41 PM

I agree. There is much evidence to support the view that the increased financial independence of women has lead to a higher divorce rate. This is not a condemnation of women's financial independence. Everyone should have the opportunity to earn a living and make their decisions, including those of a relationship to others without having to be dependent on someone else. I wrote an article on this subject that can be seen on

Posted by: Ricardo Mejias | Feb 22, 2014 3:51:35 PM

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