by Michele D. Baker
Adapted from the article by Catherine E. Shoichet and Parker Leipzig for CNN (read the full article)
Edith Heyck didn’t expect she’d be 72 years old, divorced, and living alone. “I always thought I’d be married,” she says. “I was definitely raised to be a wife, and I never imagined I’d be on my own.” Heyck, an artist in Massachusetts, is one of nearly 38 million adults living alone – in 2022, nearly 16 million people aged 65 and older in the US lived solo, three times more than in the 1960s. And as Baby Boomers age, that number is expected to grow even more.
One factor fueling the number of seniors in solo households: rising divorce rates among adults over 50.
“We were just floored by our findings,” says Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. Brown’s research popularized the term “gray divorce” to describe this phenomenon – something that used to be a rarity, but now has become much more common. “Well over a third of people who are getting divorced now are over the age of 50,” Brown says. “We just can’t ignore that group anymore.”
Brown found that from 1990 to 2010, the divorce rate for people over 50 in the United States had doubled. Even though divorce rates for the overall population are declining, for adults over 65, the divorce rate is still rising. “This means more and more people are going to be aging, probably, alone, and outside of marriage, certainly,” Brown says.
Differing Perspectives and Drifting Apart
Susan Myres knows to some people it may sound illogical to end marriages later in life, especially when death could be looming. But as a divorce attorney in Houston with decades of experience, she’s heard plenty of reasons from older clients who are calling it quits.
Myres says that differing perspectives on vaccines, masks and politics during the pandemic seems to have played a role in many recent cases that have come across her desk. “I’ve seen a pretty sharp increase in mature couples who have adult children and…grandchildren,” she says.
Some older people initiating divorces feel they’ve simply drifted too far apart from their spouses, while some have suffered abuse or discovered shocking transgressions, Myres says. All of them – including some clients in their 80s – feel like any years of life they have left are too precious to spend with the wrong person.
Experts say that could have significant consequences for communities across the country – especially if more isn’t done to provide better social services. “Who’s going to care for them as they age is a really big question, since most are not re-partnering,” Brown says.