Grey divorce

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Grey divorce[1] is the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older ("grey-haired") couples in long-lasting marriages, usually after the age of 50. The divorcing people may be called silver splitters.[2] Divorcing late in life can cause financial difficulties.

Former American vice-presidential couple Tipper and Al Gore's decision to separate after over 40 years of marriage is an example of this trend as is the former married research and writing duo Masters and Johnson and music duo Captain and Tennille, whose own divorce came in 2014 after 39 years of marriage.[3] Another example of this is the divorce of the world's 4th richest man, Bill Gates and his wife of 27 years, Melinda French Gates as of May 2021.

Society-wide effects[edit]

Like people who are single for other reasons, silver splitters may need to hire professional caregivers as they age.

Couples who divorce late in life affect the housing market. Whereas before the divorce, two older people may live in a single-family home, after the divorce, it is typical for at least one of them to live alone during the first few years after the divorce.[4] Although some silver splitters will move in with adult children, a romantic partner, or a roommate, most do not re-marry.[4] Exchanging one married couple sharing a home for two single people living apart increases the demand for smaller and less expensive housing options, such as one-bedroom apartments.[4] Many older single people need to find not only a home to live in, but a home that is affordable, will be safe and accessible as they age, and is near healthcare, transportation, and other needed services.[4]

Living together as a married couple also provided both people in the marriage with some level of live-in mutual assistance.[4] After the divorce, especially if they are living alone, they may not have access to assistance with household or financial tasks, with driving, or with activities of daily living when they are sick or if they become disabled. This increases the demand from aging people for social services, such as public transportation, professional caregiving, and subsidized or affordable housing.[4]

Grey divorces tend to be financially harmful to the individuals.[4] In addition to higher expenses (e.g., to maintain two homes instead of one shared home), the assets previously shared by the couple are divided.[4][5] Many are either retired or close to retirement, so they have less opportunity to earn or save more money than a person who divorced at a younger age.[4] Any retirement savings that survive the divorce have little time to grow again.[5]

They are also at risk of becoming socially isolated and lonely.[4] Many people enjoy the autonomy of living alone, but loneliness can become a problem, especially as they age, or if they are kinless.[4][6] The rising number of elders living alone has encouraged research into automated assistance tools and robots that can provide friendly companionship, especially in Japan.[4]

In the United States[edit]

Grey divorce was documented in the United States as early as the 1980s,[7] but wasn't labeled as such until around 2004.[8] The phenomenon entered the public awareness with a 2004 AARP study[9] and was further elucidated in Deirdre Bair's 2007 book Calling It Quits, which contained interviews with grey divorcees.[10]

As of 2023, in the US, about one third of divorces involve people over the age of 50.[4] The divorce rate for people over the age of 50 doubled between 1990 and 2010.[5][11] By 2013, the number of divorcees over the age of 50 exceeded the number of widowed people (these numbers include people who divorced or survived the death of their spouses at any age).[12] Silver splitters have less than a 50% chance of re-marrying; about one in five women will remarry, and about two out of five men.[11]

Possible causes for a higher rate of divorce among older people include the increase in human longevity, the cultural values of Baby Boomers, and women's increasing financial independence as potential causes.[13] Women are somewhat more likely to initiate divorce proceedings, and they benefit emotionally far more than financially.[11]

Financial challenges include identifying and fairly dividing retirement savings, navigating the process of getting qualified domestic relations orders for any defined benefit pension plans, and agreeing on any temporary alimony payments.[5] Social Security benefits, assuming the marriage lasted at least 10 years, are relatively standardized for divorcing couples.[5] These financial challenges, on average, disproportionately harm women.[11] Their standard of living nearly halves, while men's declines by about 20%.[11]

In Japan[edit]

In Japan it is referred to as retired husband syndrome (主人在宅ストレス症候群, Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougun, literally One's Husband Being at Home Stress Syndrome).[14][15] While devoting years to his career, a husband may rarely see his family.[15] As a result, a husband and wife may not interact extensively. When the husband retires, both can feel they are living with a virtual stranger.[16] This can cause particular stress for the woman who, as society dictated in her youth, is now expected to attend to her husband's every need.[16] The stress of change in lifestyle brings a number of problems,[15] including feelings of resentment towards husbands.[16]

In the United Kingdom[edit]

Older couples are responsible for the overall increase in the divorce rate in the United Kingdom.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deborah Carr, Ph.D. (2012-11-06).
  2. ^ "'Silver splitters' – are over-60s divorcees creating a new generation rent?". The Guardian. 12 June 2017. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  3. ^ Kingston, Anne (2010-06-01). "Al and Tipper Gore's grey divorce". Macleans. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Shoichet, Catherine E. (2023-08-05). "More Baby Boomers are living alone. One reason why: 'gray divorce'". CNN. Retrieved 2023-09-07.
  5. ^ a b c d e Gustke, Constance (2014-06-27). "Retirement Plans Thrown Into Disarray by a Divorce". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-09-07.
  6. ^ Span, Paula (2022-12-03). "Who Will Care for 'Kinless' Seniors?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-12-06.
  7. ^ Clift, Elayne (2005-03-06). "Grey Divorce on the Rise". Women's Feature Service. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  8. ^ Kuczynski, Alex (2004-08-08). "The 37-Year Itch". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-02. Those professionals, along with people going through so-called gray divorces, point to many factors
  9. ^ Kingston, Anne (2007-01-27). "The 27-Year Itch". Macleans. Archived from the original on 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  10. ^ Hampson, Sarah (2008-11-06). "The wrinkle in grey divorce: retirement funds". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  11. ^ a b c d e Span, Paula (2021-12-26). "Why Older Women Face Greater Financial Hardship Than Older Men". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-09-07.
  12. ^ Roberts, Sam (2013-09-20). "Divorce After 50 Grows More Common". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-09-07.
  13. ^ Kuczynski, Alex (2004-08-08). "The 37-Year Itch". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  14. ^ "Retired husband syndromeあるいは「主人在宅ストレス症候群」 [医学・科学関連]" (in Japanese). November 15, 2006. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
  15. ^ a b c BBC News (February 22, 2006). "Japan retired divorce rate soars". BBC News. Retrieved June 8, 2010.
  16. ^ a b c Faiola, Anthony (October 17, 2005). "Sick of Their Husbands in Graying Japan". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2006-11-29.
  17. ^ Owen, Rhodri (2004-03-05). "Grey divorce - the 50-something itch". The Western Mail. Retrieved 2010-06-02.

Further reading[edit]