Just when you’re ready to settle comfortably into old age with your spouse, you’re blindsided by a divorce. Unfortunately, this is a scenario that many baby boomers face. While divorce at any age can be calamitous, studies show that for those over 50, the effects on health and finances are especially brutal.
That’s bad news since the rate of divorce after age 50 has doubled in the U.S. since 1990, according to an article by Bloomberg. This trend has led to the coining of the term “gray divorce.”
So, why are so many baby boomers getting divorced? Factors include a longer life expectancy, popularity of remarriage, greater financial independence for women and evolving views of marriage, Susan Brown, sociology professor and co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University states in a U.S. News article.
Unfortunately, the damaging effects can be long-lasting.
Physical and Emotional Effects
“What I see among older patients is that divorce can have myriad psychological and physical consequences, especially for those with already existing medical problems,” says Dr. Andreea Seritan, a geriatric psychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco in the same U.S. News article.
According to one study, people who’ve gone through a gray divorce report higher levels of depression than those whose spouses died. Seritan agrees that she frequently sees newly divorced seniors who develop depression, chronic stress or anxiety.
Once again, that’s not good news for the over 50 crowd. These psychological conditions are linked to physical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, obesity and a weakened immune system.
Not only does divorce after 50 cut wealth in half, Brown and her colleagues determined that the standard of living for women drops 45 percent, according to the Bloomberg article. For older men, it drops only 21 percent.
Because women typically make less money than men and may have taken time out to raise children, these gaps in earnings “sometimes meant they saved less for retirement and had lower Social Security benefits,” says Jocelyn Crowley, author of “Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain from Mid-Life Splits” in the U.S. News article.
A recent T. Rowe Price survey found the median 401(k) balance of baby boomer women — $59,000 — is less than half of what it is for baby boomer men, $138,000.
One of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research Center’s previous studies discovered a 27 percent poverty rate for women over 63 who divorced later in life. That statistic is higher than for other seniors – and that even includes widows.
Okay, that’s the bad news. But not all is lost.
Just because you’re older doesn’t mean your life is over after divorce.
Finding a new partner, which helps both financially and emotionally, can help those who divorce later in life. However, women tend to be less interested than men in finding a new spouse, perhaps enjoying their newfound independence. In addition, older men often partner up with younger women.
So, what else can you do?
Writer Tania Brown makes some good suggestions in an article for Forbes: “Take some time to re-evaluate your life and consider working with a therapy group, a life divorce coach, or a career coach (some colleges, places of worship, senior centers and community centers offer classes on these topics for little or no cost) to get you back on your feet). Think of your ‘bucket list,’ wish list, hobbies, volunteer service, and prior career for direction on what to do next.”
There are other strategies you can use to combat potential problems. Seritan recommends the following per the U.S. News article:
- Avoid isolation.
- Broaden your social support network.
- Limit alcohol intake
- Adopt a pet
- Get professional help if needed
Barry Gold, author of “Gray Divorce Stories,” who divorced at 54 years of age after 27 years of marriage, wrote an interesting article for HuffPost. He outlines three essential stages:
- Survive. Grieve your loss. Deal with legal and financial matters.
- Revive. Let go of the anger and practice forgiveness.
- Thrive. Follow your path to become “a stronger, more insightful, happier person, ready to enjoy whatever comes next.”
His philosophy: “It wasn’t the plan, and it isn’t ideal. But a divorce over 50 can let you hit the reset button, be the person you want to be, and move forward into a bright, exciting future.”