With their recent surprise split, Al and Tipper Gore have put divorce back in the news.? Are divorces after forty years of marriage rare?? Is “gray divorce” on the rise?? And what should we make of the?Washington Post headline that “Al and Tipper Gore’s separation makes us fear for our parents, ourselves”?
Recent data suggests that there are plenty of couples out there like the Gores.? I crunched some numbers from recent Census Bureau data and found that, among first marriages that had recently ended, around a quarter had begun two or more decades ago, and four percent had begun at least four decades prior.? In other words, long-lasting marriages are less likely to dissolve than recent marriages. While couples married 10 years or less make up about a quarter of all marriages, they account for almost half of divorces.
So “gray divorces” are not rare, but are they on the rise?? Probably, but this says more about the latest generation with gray hair than about divorce trends generally.? The Gores married in 1970, the beginning of a cohort that has been the greatest divorcing generation in US history.? Fully 27 percent of those marrying in the 1970s had broken up by their 10th wedding anniversary, and 43 percent had parted ways by their 20th anniversary.
Around 10 percent of those remaining married divorced in the subsequent decade, which brings us to the oft-cited one-in-two divorce rate.? Yes, the one-in-two number is true-or was true-but it took almost 35 years of marriage to get there and this may be the only generation to experience it. Those marrying in the 1980s were less likely to part ways than those marrying in the 1970s, and those marrying in the 1990s and 2000s have been even more reluctant to divorce.? Today’s marriages are much more durable than those of the Gore’s generation.
The “greatest divorcing generation” faced a lot of societal changes regarding marriage, which perhaps contributed to their higher rates of divorce compared to earlier or subsequent generations.? I’ve argued elsewhere that perhaps one reason for this generation’s higher rates of divorce is that they got married expecting marriages similar to those of their parents’ generation, and found their actual lives and the lives of their peers to be ones of greater gender equality and less household specialization.
My forecast is that it’s likely that this generation that blazed a path of divorce will continue to do so until their deaths.? This decade, we’ll continue to see a lot more divorces after the Ruby (40th) anniversary because advances in life expectancy mean that those marrying in the 1970s are healthier and more active than previous generations were at this point in their marriages.
All marriages end, by death or divorce.? These advances in life expectancy mean less death, and with less death we’ll see more divorce coming from the simple fact that you can’t divorce if you are dead.
The Gore’s generation has not only been getting healthier, but they are young-younger than the current generation will be after 40 years of marriage.? Al and Tipper were married in their early twenties, like most of their generation.? Today’s generation is marrying in their late 20s-about five years older than the Gore’s generation.? That five year difference gives the Gores-plus most of their generation-an extra five years to part ways.
Should you be worried about your parents divorcing?? Well, yes they might divorce, but the upside is that it is a symptom of their being alive and healthy.? Your parents are also more likely to be in a marriage, although perhaps not to each other.? The current generation over 65 is now more likely to be currently married compared to past generations, though around a quarter of those married are not wedded to their first spouse.
Medical advances mean that today’s aging baby boomers are the first generation to find themselves approaching retirement age both healthy and with decades of living to go.? With this longer time horizon, they may think it is worth searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right-for-the-rest-of-my-life, rather than settling with whoever was right for them forty years ago.