According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of ‘silver divorces’ has risen by three-quarters in the past 20 years, while the divorce rate among the rest of the population has fallen.
As well as fractured relationships and infidelity, the rise in late-life divorce is also fueled by women fed up with old-before-their-time husbands and a lack of excitement.
Few of these women anticipate that their silver divorce will cost them all the home comforts and financial security they once took for granted.
Dominik Lipnicki, a housing expert for Your Mortgage Decisions, believes this boom in divorce and the financial instability it can cause is a huge problem for older women.
There is quite a bit packed in this quote, especially since the Daily Mail is using their standard tactic of trolling their readers. In this case the trolling consists of whispering that it’s time for older married women to ditch their boring loyal dudes, while simultaneously framing late life divorcées as victims whose cash and prizes run out far too soon. What gets lost in the trolling however is the fact that the Mail and other papers are selling a great misconception; there simply is no “boom” in divorce as couples get older. It is true that divorce rates have been rising in the UK for women over 50*:
However, divorce rates for older age brackets are very small in comparison with younger brackets. In fact, divorce rates decrease dramatically as women age. Here is what it looks like in the US:
The UK has a very similar pattern, with the exception of women under 25**. Here is a time series animation I put together using the latest ONS data going back thirty five years:
The great misconception you will find in all pieces on late life divorce is a sense that as a generation ages through or past middle age there is a time when their rate of divorce suddenly “booms” or “explodes”. This is the opposite of reality, but newspapers have a strong incentive to give the sense that “everyone is doing it” to both sell feminist divorce empowerment and to sell copy.
If you break the UK data down by cohort you can see that for the last thirty five years around age 27 a woman’s tendency to divorce starts falling and continues to fall; It falls so quickly as she ages that by the time she passes sixty her likelyhood of divorcing in any given year drops to around 1.5 per 1,000. The chart below presents data for all four birth cohorts of Baby Boomers (B), along with two cohorts of Silents (S) before them and Gen Xers (X) after them. This tracks each cohort from their early twenties through their late 50s***:
To understand the data represented in the chart above, it might help to see it in table form. Also, keep in mind that the chart above actually understates the way that divorce risk reduces as women age because:
- The older the age bracket we are looking at, the higher the proportion of second, third, etc marriages in the mix. Remarriages have far higher rates of divorce than first marriages, so this skews the data to make it look like late life divorce is higher (relatively) than it really is.
- The curves only show data through the late 50s***, because after a woman turns 60 the ONS stops breaking divorce rates out in five year brackets. Divorce rates after 60 are so low (around 1.5 per 1,000 married women per year) that it doesn’t make sense to try to measure it separately for each over 60 bracket.
*The data is from the ONS page here. The most recent data file is for 2013 (tab 3b). Note that for 1981 the data isn’t broken out for the 50-54 and 55-59 age brackets, so I used the averages for the years immediately prior and after 1981 to fill in the gap.
**I won’t speculate on the reason US and UK divorce patterns are different for the under 25 age brackets since this is a post on late(r) life divorce.
***Except for the younger cohorts where there isn’t yet data for the older age brackets.