So much for “till death do us part.” For the first time, more Americans 50 and older are divorced than widowed, and the numbers are growing as baby boomers live longer. Sociologists call them gray divorcees.
Barbara Wingate and her husband of 34 years divorced in 2009 — after the marriage of their daughter. Both were 58 and they had tried for a year to resolve their differences.
“I was in shock and sought counseling for several months,” said Ms. Wingate, who lives in Toledo, Ohio. “My whole identity was connected to him and his career.”
A half-century ago, only 2.8 percent of Americans older than 50 were divorced. By 2000, 11.8 percent were. In 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 15.4 percent were divorced and another 2.1 percent were separated. Some 13.5 percent were widowed.
While divorce rates over all have stabilized and even inched downward, the divorce rate among people 50 and older has doubled since 1990, according to an analysis of census data by professors at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. That’s especially significant because half the married population is older than 50.
In 1990, 1 in 10 persons who divorced was 50 or older. By 2011, according to the census’s American Community Survey, more than 28 percent (more than 1 in 4) who said they divorced in the previous 12 months were 50 or older.