Today, the number is one in four, as the rate of divorce among seniors has more than doubled, approaching 800,000 a year.
This is more significant than it appears, since the overall divorce rate for all age groups combined has actually gone down in 20 years. And also significant is that half the people getting divorced after 50 have already had a divorce.
In fact, having been married before doubles the risk of divorce among people 50 to 64, and quadruples the risk for those over 64. This data, reported in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, will be presented in a paper by sociologist Susan Brown this April.
And according to a survey by the AARP in 2004, almost 70% of these divorces are initiated by women. But not for the reason which most naturally comes to mind.
Infidelity is cited as a cause no more often than in the general populations (about 30% of the time.) The main reason for divorce among men and women this age is basically “it’s my last chance to have a new life.”
The boomers have brought their free love to old age and the results say a lot about the destructive forces unleashed by the 60s. Before the 1970’s, Brown says, “no one would have thought to separate the self as being distinct from the role of good wife and mother.”
But late life divorce doesn’t work out as well as one might expect. The wife still ends up more often with the home—including maintenance costs and declining property values. She shoulders most of the financial responsibilities of the kids as well—college costs and holidays. And the fathers have less and less contact with their kids.
What’s to like about this? The highly individualistic self-seeking model of modern marriage is not exactly an improvement.
More troubling, at least to me, is that young women no longer have credible models of what a good wife is, and young men have no clue about what it means to be a husband.
It is with good reason Paul encourages older women to be “reverent” and to “train the young women to love their husbands and children.” And he says “older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.”
If ever we have sowed the wind and reaped a whirlwind this may be the time.
But why invest this time in helping young people understand these things when there are games to play on Facebook or watch on TV? Where are the reverent women and self-controlled men when you need them? And what would they teach their children anyway? How to we get back to “we” from “me.”
The habits that bring divorce—criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling—are deeply embedded in the boomers. And in the children of the boomers. And in the second and third marriages of the boomers as well.
These habits reflect self-centeredness and inattentiveness, of course. The Gottman Institute, founded on data that helped predict divorce, encourages couples to “turn toward” each other, responding to requests to reconnect.
That’s a good idea.
But we have to see a bigger picture and see a greater need. The very fabric of our culture is at stake. We are being watched by our grandchildren.
And I say the solution is more basic. And more urgent.
We just have to get over ourselves.
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