Guiding Baby Boomers through Their Divorce Crisis

Guiding Baby Boomers through Their Divorce Crisis

Baby boomers refuse to relinquish the title when it comes to generational divorce rates. It is that fact alone that seems to be defining another generation’s attitude toward divorce: millennials.  Back in the Sixties, when boomers reached what was then considered ‘marital age’, nearly half the generation were getting hitched. By the time Generation X had reached the same relative point, the number dropped to about thirty six percent. By 2016, it can hardly be any wonder that Millennials are somewhat hesitant to take the plunge, with a mere 26% tying the knot. So what have the patriarchs and matriarchs of the boomer generation been going through all these years? Were they resentful of Millennials overtaking them as the largest generation in American history? Did they feel the need to dominate in another category?

Known as the Gray Divorce Revolution, it is a serious issue facing Americans over the age of 50. The number of divorces among married couples in that age group has more than doubled between 1990 and 2014, according to a study published by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. That number has tripled for couples over the age of 65. So what are the key factors in this crisis? What can boomers do about it?

Divorce Crisis: Gender Roles

Consider the journey that women in this country have undergone from 1946 to 2016, the 70 year lifespan of the Baby Boomer generation. Economic resources play a huge role in marriage, clearly. Not only does who earns what matter but so does where the resources are held, how they are tied up and so on. The fact that women have made such strides in terms of economic independence has led to shifts in their marriages, for better or for worse. Marriage simply is no longer a woman’s only option for financial security. Financial autonomy makes a strong argument for women of this generation to leave their marriages. Meanwhile, their millennial counterparts are more likely to have some semblance of autonomy when they meet their future spouse.

Divorce Crisis: Economy

The economic factors of marriage are not limited to gender roles. They are not even all about money. Education and employment are crucial as well. It may not please the romantics among us but marriages of a certain vintage may be nothing more than an impressive portfolio. Aging can be about downsizing. Downsizing can lead to a smaller home. It may also be part of the decision-making that leads to late-life divorce. Apologies again to the romantics but some married couples might just consider children to be economic factors. Middle age means an empty nest more often than not. While statistics show that having an education reduces the risk of divorce, providing one for one’s offspring may just free some from remaining ties to marriage.

When it comes to guidance, I guess any boomer couple considering a divorce don’t really need to hear about gender roles. While they may wish to understand why this crisis has beset their generation, it is probably a lot more pertinent to know what to do about marital assets. After all, we’re talking about retirement money, funds that were probably intended for one household but now may be covering two. The most important tip in this regard is to check or change the beneficiaries of all accounts. Trust me, it goes deeper when you consider the government’s interest in those accounts, not to mention the fact that not all are equal. This is why we have attorneys and accountants.

Divorce Crisis: Relationships

Economic changes and the evolution of gender roles are major social forces but the relationship between men and women defies even studies from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. It certainly predates it. Still, these findings discussed here have had their effect. 66% of women are initiating these late-life breakups. Why do you think that is? Aside from what we previously discussed in regards to gender, a marriage is still a relationship. With no relationship, there may be economic factors but there is no marriage. Who you marry truly does matter, regardless of romantic notions. We all want love in the end but we also exist in a reality that needs to be lived. That requires work. In the end, relationships require balance. For the pragmatic among you, especially the Baby Boomers still giving it their best shot, here is a terrific list of tools that will always come in handy when it comes to maintaining a relationship:

  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Working out the differences
  • Letting go 
  • Forgiving
  • Trust-building & trust repair

Those who study communication in college will be the first to tell you that it is non-existent in this culture. There may be some unemployment-related bitterness involved there but it is not far from the truth. Ask your divorce attorney about the importance of negotiation, even though it might be too late to use it to save your marriage. If the differences are irreconcilable, it may be tough to work them out. I think you feel where I’m going with this. Relationships require work from the beginning, whether they lead to marriage or not. Marriage won’t change that fact any more than divorce will necessarily end the relationship. Re-marriage, on the other hand, does make divorce easier. In either case, children and shared experience tend to make relationships a permanent part of life.

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