Al and Tipper: What Does It Mean?

DESCRIPTIONPeter DaSilva for The New York Times

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.

More here, here, and here


Let's not forget that no-fault divorce allowed women to end marriages unilaterally (and women are responsible for 2/3 of divorces). At the same time, changes in family law made divorce ever more appealing to women.


I don't think Al and Tipper belong in the discussion about divorce rates and such.

Rather than "growing apart" (or whatever) I think its far more likely that we just haven't seen the 25 year old semi-attractive intern on TV yet. Al, after all, is a politician.


Society should just be polygamous.

Also, with a 50% divorce rate + whatever percent of married couples that have secret affairs, how can anti-gay marriage groups argue for the "sanctity of marriage"?


It is the other way round in India. Recent marriages are more likely to dissolve because as a society we have become more open and more accepting of divorced men and (in particular) women. There used to be a taboo associated with a failed marriage, in some social circles there still is.

Marriages over 30 years are also dissolving at a faster rate in India too. I think the reason is that at that age the couple no longer "needs" to be together. the so-called societal/famililal expectations of them are done, the kids are married and settled in their own lives and the couple discovers that it was family responsibilities which were keeping them together.

Eric M. Jones

It's clearly a result of Global Warming.


" Today's marriages are much more durable than those of the Gore's generation."

Since the author makes a point of categorizing divorces by length of matrimony, we will really have to wait another decade or two to see whether her assertion holds true for today's marriages.


I guess no one will be giving "Greatest Generation" accolades to us baby boomers. We divorce more than succeeding generations and (based on recent media stories about current college students' relationships with their parents) we were more rebellious / less respectful to out parents.

The official story is that the Gores' divorce is a mutual decision, but based on the balance of power in the relationship, I would blame Al unless I were provided convincing evidence to the contrary. And it is not something he should be proud of.

Peter Silverman

I've thought long and hard if Al and Tipper owe me anything, and I don't think so.

Andy Gordon

I love the story of the couple who married in their 20s, now in their 90s, who announced they were going to get divorced. Stunned friends asked why they weren't getting along after all these years of marriage.

"We really have wanted to get a divorce for many years," they replied, "but decided to wait until the children were dead."


#1 AC makes a good point. Post 1970's No-Fault divorce with the financial advantages it brings to the lower-earning/SAH spouse, has made divorce a very attractive option for the person who finds himself/herself as the lucky half of that divorce equation.

The divorce laws have become one-sided enough to the extent that Marriage has become a raw deal if you are going to be the primary breadwinner spouse.


There's an essay called "Men, Women, and Marriage - the Biggest Midlife Crisis" posted on that I found interesting which speaks to the transitional stage that US society is and has been passing through the last few decades. No solutions; just observations and explanations. It can summarized by saying "only time will allow changing gender roles to play out."

My guess is that at some future date, historians will look back on the short-lived "Ozzie & Harriet" phase of Amerca with wonderment.


It's interesting that the tabloids are always predicting George W. Bush's upcoming divorce (have been doing it for years) which has yet to happen and may never, and totally missed the Gore thing (is there left wing press bias here even from the tabloids or did no one yet find which "intern" Mr. Gore is probably involved with?)


I found this short piece interesting. But I was most interested to read, "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."

I disagree. I think many people divorce because they are selfish, narcissistic, and depressed. Hardly the picture of "alive and healthy."

Yes, for some divorce is liberating (ie. physical and emotional abuse). But, in my life experience (I'm not divorced) I have only seen people around me go through bitter pain.

To me, alive and healthy is keeping a good marriage going.


There may be a financial reason for divorce among elderly couples. Medicaid for health care only starts when the couple spends down total assets to $100,000. To protect substantial wealth it could be an option to divorce sufficiently early enough to avoid the look-back period and avoid penalties.


It seems to me that the political marriage is kind of a special case. While we've come a long way since the 1960s when divorce was so stigmatized that simply marrying a divorced woman was a serious detriment, divorce is still unthinkable for a politician seeking high office. Even when the politician has clearly transgressed moral norms, there appear to be costs to the wife in terms of lost status - which might explain all the Good Political Wives "standing by their men" (and why Hilary Clinton still hasn't kicked Bill to the curb). Nowadays it's only among politicians (and probably the clergy) that this "staying together for the sake of appearances" still applies.

The Gores' marriage always struck me as having a values mismatch, ever since Tipper's advocacy of song-lyric censorship. It may well have been a purely status arrangement for decades. However, the real signal in their divorce is that Al now considers his political career to be over. Since he no longer has to contend with the unrealistic standards of conservative voters, the Gores are now free to do the honest thing and split up.



"Today's marriages are much more durable than those of the Gore's generation."

This is probably sample bias. I would guess that since people remain single longer today, those who do marry are the kind who will stick together.

Yos Yang

it's too optimistic regarding to the consequence of divorce. Gore's generation might be happier ending their marriage, but societal expense ensued by their breaking-up is hugh. This sociology book employing extensive empirical data( A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval) how divorce affect generation's social capital and performance.


Divorces statistically cluster around key life transitions (the seven year itch, when then kids hit teenage age, etc. Like Nielsen's PRISM clusters). As such, marriages should be structured, not as one lifetime agreement, but as a series of lifestage agreements with optional renewal clauses. Mr. Right to raise the kids is probably not Mr. Right to retire with, so our marriage contracts should reflect that.

Eric M. Jones

Ya' gotta luv it:

A Really Inconvenient Truth: Divorce Is Not Green
ScienceDaily (Dec. 5, 2007) - The data are in. Divorce is bad for the environment. A novel study that links divorce with the environment shows a global trend of soaring divorce rates has created more households with fewer people, has taken up more space and has gobbled up more energy and water.

Loren Pechtel

Those of you who are arguing that we don't have enough data are off target--we can look at the divorce rate vs time for each cohort and compare them.

I think what's going on with marriages being more durable now is cohabitation--a lot of the early failures are weeded out before they ever marry.