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Divorce later in life becoming more common

Edwin & Kelly Tofslie

Over the last 10 years, divorce rates have been steadying in the U.S., with the exception of one age group.

This week on “Take Care,” journalist Abby Ellin tells us why, more and more, older couples seem to be splitting up. Ellin is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, and her work has also appeared in Time magazine and the Village Voice. Ellin's article, "After Full Lives Together, More Older Couples Are Divorcing," appeared in The New York Times last October.

Ellin says the likely reason divorce rates are decreasing overall, is due to our longer life expectancy and people marrying later in life.

“They’re not just jumping into it,” Ellin said. “So they’re with people they really want to be married to and they’ve put more thought into it.”

However, a longer life expectancy may also be a contributing factor as to why older couples are divorcing more.

“There’s two ways of looking at it. You can say ‘life is long and I don’t want to spend my last years in an unhappy situation.’ The flip side of that is ‘God, I’ve invested 35 years into something, I don’t think I want to end it,’” Ellin said.

But aside from life expectancy, Ellin says the biggest reason older couples may be filing for divorce is that women now have more economic stability.

“[Women] have their own financial resources and they don’t have to stay with a partner who they don’t want to stay with,” Ellin said.

Reasons women want to leave can be for extreme cases, such as abuse, addiction, or cheating. But Ellin adds that although statistics show more women than men are filing for divorce, it doesn’t necessarily mean men don’t also want to split up.

“In 2014, people 50 and over were twice as likely to go through a divorce then they were in 1990.” Ellin said, citing the National Center of Marriage and Family Research. “For those over 65, the increase was even higher.”

This is because many people over 65 are on their second marriage. Ellin says the factors associated with this, such as blended families and financial issues, make the rate more than two times larger in older couples.

However, one reason for the higher rate of divorce could also be for the simple reason that couples have a different definition of retirement.

“We’ve put so much cachet now on leading a meaningful life, and I don’t know that we did in years past, and now it’s about meaning and significance and how do I want to spend my time?” Ellin said. “People don’t want to be spending their time in something that they don’t feel has meaning, and that could be in a relationship.”