Marriage was once a central construct of American life, offering substantial benefits to couples who tied the knot. Settling down with a life partner was part of the long-revered American Dream but not anymore. In the United States, marriage and divorce rates dropped over the last several decades — strangely, however, divorce rates among older adults in Tennessee continue to decrease year after year.
What is “gray divorce”?
In 2004, AARP did a study on divorce among seniors in the United States, therein coining the term “gray divorce.” A few years later, Bowling Green State University researchers foresaw a “grey divorce revolution.” BGSU’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research continues to study the ongoing changes in U.S. marriage rates.
Between 1990 and 2019, the greatest divorce rate increase among all age demographics affected seniors ages 65 and up. The divorce rate fell in total and among those aged 15-24, 25-34 and 35-44; conversely, divorce rates rose among people aged 45-54, 55-64 and 65+.
What’s behind the increase?
Up until the Age of Enlightenment, which revolutionized the Western world in the 17th and 18th centuries, people married almost exclusively for shared benefits, to satisfy cultural expectations and form alliances between families. Between 1920 and 1950, Americans slowly began moving away from the traditional roots of marriage, choosing instead to marry out of love. After this, marriage became a means of satisfying people’s self-esteem — marrying to improve social status, in other words.
The gray divorce trend’s roots date back to the late 1960s, when people began valuing self-fulfillment and personal happiness more than ever before. Many other factors contributed to the ongoing trend of gray divorce, including divorce gaining social acceptance, life expectancy increases and divorce gaining social acceptance.
Older adults will likely continue to divorce at greater rates than their younger counterparts thanks to long-changing views on marriage.