Exploding “Grey Divorce”

My wife saw something in the media about some large trend of couples divorcing at or around retirement age, dubbed “grey divorce”.  She was very troubled by this.  I agreed entirely with the sentiment, but was also intrigued.  Why would there be a swell of divorce at that particular time?  Retirement is for many a time of great uncertainty and risk.  Why jettison the partnership which has gotten you through the other trying times of life just as this new one approaches?  Retirement is also a time to enjoy the fruits of a lifetime’s labor.  Why not enjoy as a team the fruits you worked so hard to earn together?  Furthermore, the one fact that everyone seems to agree on regarding divorce is that they are mostly initiated by women.  But late in life the benefits of marriage to women are increasing.  It simply made no sense.

So I set out to better understand this phenomenon.  I googled “grey divorce” and read all of the articles I could find.  I was especially interested in the source of the statistics driving this conclusion, and how they were being used. Here are some examples of what I found:

From the headlines, a promising start!  I should know more about what is really happening with just a few clicks, right?  No such luck.  When you strip out the sensationalist claims made by those who stand to profit from an increase in divorce (authors of books on divorce and divorce attorneys), all that remains are some vague references to US Census data and more commonly, a study performed by the AARP in 2004 on divorce after 40.

One phrase you will note on nearly every story about grey divorce is the assertion that it is “exploding”, or an “exploding phenomenon”.  This catch phrase originated in the book Calling It Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over by Deirdre Bair.  From the Amazon description, the book is a collection of individual stories of late life divorce, and was inspired by the AARP survey and the author’s own late life divorce.

I’ll go into the Census data in a later post, and briefly cover the AARP study in the remainder of this post.  First off, the AARP study did not find an increase of “grey divorce”.  In fact, the study wasn’t even focused on divorce after retirement age.  73% of the divorces examined in the study occurred when the respondent was in their 40s.  Another 15% of the divorces they studied occurred when the respondent was 50-55.  Only 11% occurred when the person answering the survey was over 55.

So we know what the AARP study didn’t say.  Did it say anything interesting?  As it turns out, yes it does!  Late life divorce tends to work out (relatively) better for men and worse for women;  try finding that in an article on grey divorce.  Here are some selected quotes from the study that the news stories decided not to share since it would have gone against their goal of selling divorce to older women (emphasis in quotes is mine):

Almost 9 in 10 men (87%) dated after their divorce, compared to 8 in 10 women (79%)…  Among those who dated after the divorce, more than half of men (54%) but fewer women remarried (39%). (Page 39)

Many women, especially those who have not remarried
(69%), do not touch or hug at all sexually.
An even larger majority of women who have not remarried do not engage in sexual intercourse (77% saying not at all), in comparison with about half of men (49%) who have not remarried.  (Page 6)

Note: The table at the bottom of P A-35 gives the breakdown of men vs women reporting no sexual intercourse over the last month.  33% for men, 59% for women.  This doesn’t seem to be explained by age distribution of survey respondents.  56% of responses were from those in their 40s and 50s.  87% of the survey takers were in their 60s or younger.

Their age at the time of divorce also impacts dating, especially among women.  Eighty‐eight percent of women in their 40s dated (35% did before the divorce was final), while 79 percent of women in their 60s and older did the same (13% did before the divorce was final).  (Page 39)

While women appreciate their new‐found self‐identity, freedom, and independence, their finances pose hurdles after divorce…  [men] mention having more sex or different sexual experiences five times more than women as something they like best after divorce.  They also tend to be better off financially.  (Page 31)

This is just a cursory overview.  If you are interested you can follow the link and look at the whole report.  Even if you don’t look at the original report, note the misleading cover image of the sad older man dining alone.

While no doubt there is plenty of misery to go around following late life divorce, based on the survey results (and census data) the cover image really should have shown a picture of an older woman dining alone.


  1. While at some point  someone may have seen an up-tick in retirement age divorce, there is no evidence to back up the type of event being reported in the media.  Put differently, if the media has any data to back this up they aren’t sharing it.
  2. Men tend to fare better than women when considering remarriage and/or physical affection following late life divorce.  A surprisingly large percent of women who divorced after 40 report receiving no physical affection at all, not even hugs. (more on why this is likely the case in part two when we go over the census data)
  3. Men tend to fare better than women financially following late life divorce.  (part three will explore why this is likely the case)
  4. The media is selling late life divorce to women as empowering, and an exiting new trend even though the report which originated the interest in the topic showed this is the opposite of what most women experience.

This is the first part of a three part series I will do on the topic.  Part two will look at the census data and the dating/sexual marketplace implications of late life divorce.  Part three will explore the shifting financial incentives regarding divorce as couples enter retirement.

This entry was posted in Ageing Feminists, Choice Addiction, Grey Divorce, Marriage, Post Marital Spinsterhood, Remarriage Strike and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Exploding “Grey Divorce”

  1. Gorbachev says:

    This is genuinely disturbing.

    Is there any cow the Media won’t try to kill, sacred or not?

  2. grerp says:

    Interesting piece.

    I generally think that if you’ve made it into decades of marriage and through the part with kids, you can hang in there until the end. Seriously, it’s not good to be alone when you’re old, and not just because of loneliness. Financially, splitting your assets when they are being drained not added to, is bad policy. And who’s going to hold your hand when you go in for the chemo?

    Rugged individualism is for the young and unattached.

  3. J says:

    Interesting piece, Dalrock. As I’ve said over at Roissy, this is something that I see more and more in my commmunity, so, as I approach that vulnerable point in my life where the kids will soon be getting ready to leave the house and the hubs and I retire, this interests me.

    What I notice is that these marriages end “not with a bang but a whimper.” At a dinner party I resently attended, one husband who is usually rather a curmudgeon sat down next to me to explain how thirty years with one woman is “just too damn much.” This, in front of his wife of thirty-some years and my husband! She seemed relatively indifferent, like she’d heard it all before and really didn’t give a damn.
    Another couple we know, pillars of our community, just broke up. Both seem happy as clams. We attended a wedding a few weeks ago. A couple we are friends with sat with us. When our husbands (both musicians) got up to chat with the dance band, the wife said to me that she hoped the bride knew what she was in for and then announced her intention to leave the marriage when her son reached 18. Later, I mentioned this to my husband whose reaction was, “I guess two weeks after she goes, when he notices that she’s gone, he’ll move his keyboards up from the basement. Two weeks after that he’ll ask himself if there wasn’t a kid there once–one whose name he can’t quite remember.”

    As I child of divorce, I hope to never experience another family break-up. I’ve been really freaked out about what’s happening around me, but I’m starting to find it hard to care more about these situations than the people who are actually involved.

    You said, “A surprisingly large percent of women who divorced after 40 report receiving no physical affection at all, not even hugs.” One thing that I’m seeing is that when the woman initiates the divorce, they don’t seem to care much about sex or affection anymore. They don’t seem to be looking for another romance as much as for some freedom. The question they ask themselves is “Do I want to spend the last years of my life with guy?” Some feel that they are better off alone than with their husbands. The curmudgeon’s wife would probably be right if she decided to leave. Even if she doesn’t, she’ll probably really enjoy widowhood. I had a couple of aunts, married to some jerks, who loved being widows. In the meantime, my friend who recently lost her husband of 50 years is still having a rough time. And I made a point of getting my husband to hang with me on Saturday.

  4. dalrock says:

    Thanks for the feedback J. Two things I noticed about your examples:

    1) All of the late life divorces you are seeing are justified. No one in your sphere is choosing divorce when they would be better served sticking it out, doing the work, etc.
    2) Regardless of who is initiating the divorce, it is always the man’s fault.

    I’m younger than you, so the divorces I tend to see are somewhat younger couples. I see both kinds of divorce; frivolous and warranted. I also see some cases where the man is at fault, and others where the woman is.

    I think we each look at divorces we come across from our own generational lens. From my experience, your generation is strongly invested in the idea of divorce as liberation, with frivolous divorce being uncommon to the point of not being worth mentioning, and men always being at fault (again to the point of exceptions not being worth mentioning). My generation tends to see things more like I described experiencing. I suspect we could both look at the same 10 cases of divorce, and our overall assessment would fit our generation’s view. You would see 10 cases of justified divorce, with the man always to blame. I would see a mix of frivolous and non frivolous, with a mix of who was to blame. But I couldn’t prove that in a court of law…

    the wife said to me that she hoped the bride knew what she was in for and then announced her intention to leave the marriage when her son reached 18

    I view this very differently than you simply because of the lack of grace with which she is handling the situation. I’ve seen cases where one spouse put up with more crap than anyone ever should have to and stuck it out for the kids. In these cases, they didn’t go around publicly broadcasting to the world their intent to divorce at x date. They suffered in dignity and then quietly divorced once the impact to the kids would be minimized. I read this not as a case of a wronged wife suffering for her kids, but a woman on a divorce power trip. She wants to savor the power this gives her, and she can’t do this unless others know she has her finger on the trigger.

    But all of this is beside my key point, which I don’t think you commented on. The media saw a study which showed that late life divorce was relatively rare, but that when it occurred women fared badly from it. The spin was how “empowering” (a marketing term targeted at women) this was, and how it was some hot new trend (also a concept targeted at women). They don’t care how many women they have to send into the meat grinder, so long as they can create some additional chaos for everyone else and sell their highly distorted view of the world. The kind of women you describe for whom divorce would be a positive even if they struggle financially and end up lonely to the point of not even getting hugs don’t need a glitzy marketing campaign; they are part of the generation which prides itself in making divorce acceptable.

  5. J says:

    Hi Dalrock–I just posted anonymously by accident. Sorry.

  6. dalrock says:

    Hi J. No worries, but I’m afraid I don’t see your anon post. It appears to be lost.

  7. J says:

    That’s a shame. It was a long one, and I’m not really up to re-writing it eight now. Oh, well.

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  18. Glenn says:

    Can you imagine actually having to spend a weekend with J? Ugh! Thank God I married a foreign girl.

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  25. jeff says:

    Divorce is a Rampant Epidemic especially when the government & military (NATO) is behind it!

    I went to a father’s group in Texas (just north of Fort Hood) where some ex-military west pointer gave some real eye-opening comments. He basically said that the current Divorce process, legislation, court system and military is all one scheme that was put into play around the early 1960‘s. It was put in place for the Vietnam War, that’s when the divorces started to sky-rocket across the country (Google statistics). That in addition, it was also designed to be one huge cash-cow to lure greedy lawyers to facilitate and destroy more families on the civilian side to get enough statistics to make it comparable to the military statistics. However the military numbers are still much higher. That is why they then modified the scheme to use on police nationwide to raise the civilian stats as most are ex-military and won’t suspect anything wrong.

    It is designed to send “single” male soldiers without family responsibilities to war and deny ex-wives any long-term financial support that was initially and may still be coming from the military/ pentagon’s money pockets. This is why laws traditionally have been favoring women. Women are lured to divorce partners with both positive and negatives reinforcements. The positive is they get the kids, the house, money in many forms-child support etc thus they benefit in the short term. To the military, the soldiers wives are expendable as are the soldiers and even their children! Simply the less money the military spends on wives, kids, ex-soldiers, the medical bills etc, the more they have for their drones, guns, or bullets. The scheme is very very complicated but based on very slow very subtle psy-ops brainwashing tactics followed by Machiavellian divide and conquer restraining orders. He said that any Freedom of Information request will gradually reveal key pieces of data that when analyzed together with confirm all this. Talking about this among other soldiers would also reveal stuff, so they came up with “leave your family problems at home” and the “zero tolerance” to divorce and get the spouses or soldiers out of the service quickly before they talk and expose the scheme. Many times this leads to actual suicides or apparent “suicides” to silence those that know too much. This is also the reason why the Pentagon does not want to release documents related to divorce. Part of the even bigger Military-Industrial complex. Similar schemes used throughout the world pushed through United Nations facades.

    Basically makes wives and soldier fight and hate each other. The scheme basically exploits women’s emotional traits to spread itself to other victims. The media contributes to the fear mongering and makes things worst. Fear (PTSD etc) makes women fear for their safety or some play the helpless damsel in distress thus they then go pleading to the oh-so-willing authorities who provide them with military issued cookie cutter divorce packets to take to a civilian lawyer. They do this to hide where the process initially starts.

  26. vascularity777 says:

    I clicked on your name and then read some of your blog. I could not understand anything that were were seemingly trying to convey. Perhaps you can provide some explanation.

  27. Eddie says:

    If women fare so much worse after gray divorce, then why are two thirds of all divorces initiated by women? People grow tired of having to pretend they’re still in love when they know deep down it has become an unfullfilling lie. At 50, you still have 25-30 years left of life. Do you really want to spend it with the person you’ve already grown tired of for the LAST twenty years?

    The only marriages that will really last are the ones where people seek out their first REAL love, and then can find YOUNG love again only at an older age. I predict this will happen more and more as boomers age and rekindle love for the one they left behind – and as they have lost love for the one they went with for the “grass is greener on the other side” reason. It never is. They simply end up sticking out years of unhappiness until they’ve had enough.

    News flash – most statistics, wether you like it or not, suggest that MOST marriages are unhappy. And one more thing – if the divorce rate is calculated by number of marriages to divorces in a given year, would not the actual divorce rate be higher than statistics suggest? After all, divorces usually occur after years of marriage, but who the heck gets divorced in the first year? Very, very, few people do. With almost 50% of first, 67% of second and 73% of third marriages ending in divorce, and with many people already on their second or third marriage – the reality is that MOST marriages will end in divorce.

    I fully expect my comment to be “moderated” away because it states the reasonable truth instead of the rosy picture that the ” sheeple” want to believe. At least the the so-called “moderator” (translation, the person who won’t allow opinions on the site other than thier own) can chew on a reasonable anlyasis before they trash this comment.

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  29. Sir_Viver says:

    When she was 52, my rebellious wife of 21 years along with 15 of “our friends” and some from our Sunday School class, and also our Associate Pastor secretly placed the contents of our home into a moving van while I was at work.

    I came home that night and discovered our house was empty. My two children were missing (15 & 13), and so was the dog, the cat, the money, our computer containing all my files, and our only good car. My wife’s note said don’t try to find us. The kids don’t want to be contacted. I was in shock.

    After being abandoned, our senior pastor and his assistants never phoned me or visited me a single time. I was shunned by my church and even some of my own family members based on whatever things my “Christian” wife was saying about me. So right about now you are probably thinking, “Man, this guy must be an abusive, narcissistic lunatic!”

    When our SS teacher heard of my wife’s secret departure with the help of some of our SS classmates and a pastor, he went ballistic because he knew about my wife’s aberrant behavior and vicious abuse of me. He demanded that we confront the leadership, but the action we took was unsuccessful. Within a few months he and his family left our large Baptist church. Later he planted a new church which he has pastored 14 years now.

    Since “white privilege” is a fixture in our culture now, I think men need to pour the foundation for “FEMALE PRIVILEGE” –the advantage women now enjoy knowing whatever claims they make against us are going to be believed! I lost everything including my health. It’s 15 years now and I don’t know where my son and daughter are. And I have a granddaughter now I cannot see.

    But despite my impoverishment, and 12 years of incurable bone marrow cancer, I am WINNING THIS BATTLE because Romans 8:28 says “That in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, for those who have been called according to his purpose.” I still serve the Lord, but my “ex” and my children have renounced the Lord. And my monthly Social Security check continues to be garnished $25.00 for Child Support arrears which she refuses to cancel.

    This is why I invite you to visit and join AMBEC, a brand new facebook page I created for the protection of Christian men!

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