“Gray” Divorcees and Boomer Grandparents

o-GRAY-DIVORCEIn the New York Times, September 22, 2013, author Sam Roberts writes an article entitled, Divorce After 50 Grows More Common.  He says:

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.

 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, where Ms. Wingate now lives. 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.

Researchers at Bowling Green warn that the rising divorce rate among older Americans has serious implications that go well beyond the couples themselves. Like widowhood, divorce can contribute to economic strain and poor health, placing a larger burden on children and, given shrinking family size, on institutional support from government and other sources.

 “It’s still true that in general the longer you are married, the lower your chance of divorce, but it’s sure no guarantee anymore,” said Stephanie Coontz, who teaches family history at Evergreen State College in Washington State.

 She attributes the trend to the higher rate of divorce among baby boomers and to the fact that many are in second or third marriages, making them statistically more prone to divorce. Still, she and others detect an increase in divorce among couples who have been married 25 years or more.

“I don’t necessarily think this will accelerate, but I don’t expect it to go down,” she said. “Staying together until death do us part is a bigger challenge than it used to be because we expect so much more of marriage than we did in the past, and we have so many more options when a marriage doesn’t live up to those expectations.

Why does the article not promote marriage counseling, even for Boomers!

This article is very informative for Boomer Grandmas.  However, NEVER gray divorcees.  I am a grandma who never intends to let my hair go gray.  It seems that twenty first century married women are more choosy and more apt to be the partner to seek change in marital status:

“The extension of the active, healthy life span is a big part of this,” Professor Coontz said. “If you are a healthy 65, you can expect another pretty healthy 20 years. So with the kids gone, it seems more burdensome to stay in a bad relationship, or even one that has grown stale.”

 Most divorces among older couples, as in younger ones, are initiated by women.

 “Women have long been more sensitive to – or less tolerant of – a mediocre relationship than men,” Professor Coontz said, “and so another big factor is that with their increased work experience and greater sense of their own possibilities, they are less willing to just `wait it out.’

 “We expect to find equality, intimacy, friendship, fun, and even passion right into what people used to see as the `twilight years,’ ” she added.

 “Twilight Years” is so last generation.  We are “Forever Young.”

So what do the experts say is the cause of “the gray revolution,” a title given to this societal phenomena by two sociologists at Bowling Green, according to Mr. Roberts:

Robert D. Gould, a New York trial lawyer who handles matrimonial cases and himself was divorced when he was over 50, said: “A lot of marriages died a long time ago, but because of the shame involved, in a family people often stuck together for the children. Now the children are grown up. Viagra is another reason – men are able to satisfy younger women. And people are living longer and they can get out and still have a life.”

 In a recent study of census data, Prof. Susan L Brown and Prof. I-Fen Lin attribute the trend to several factors, including societal acceptance of divorce and the increased economic autonomy of women. “Finally,” they write, “lengthening life expectancies decrease the likelihood that marriages will end through death and increase the length of exposure to the risk of divorce.”

 The professors found that divorce is more likely among older couples who have less education, who are African-American or Hispanic and who have been married for fewer than 10 years. Nonetheless, they say that if the rate remains constant, “we project a 25 percent increase in the number of people that will experience divorce” two decades from now among Americans 50 and older.

Now this is Grandma’s view on this “gray revolution.”  Societal changes impacting on this issue are even greater than listed above.

Consider the societal phenomena of 50% of our adult population living alone and happy with that choice.  So many times we forget that one feel alone in a bad marriage and happier living alone.  However, the grass is not always greener.  This Grandma has seen people get divorced, just to get remarried to a new spouse who could be the clone of the first who caused them to be unhappy.

Consider the societal phenomena that 40% of women are the breadwinners in the family.  So many times we forget that economic independence allows for more options.

Consider the American phenomena of “the pursuit of happiness.”  What is a perfect marriage?  This Grandma’s view is a perfect marriage is when you are happy 70% of the time in the relationship.  Americans strive for 100%.  Expectation breeds disappointment.   No one is perfect and living with another person, any other person, is hard.  The late night comedians have commented recently that no one is getting married anymore because everyone says marriage is hard work and who wants to sign on for hard work.  Even the author adds an additional quote:

It takes work. “It’s not something you can put on the back burner while you raise your kids, for example, and think it won’t scorch somewhere along the way,” Professor Coontz said.

Consider another article published the same day in the Wall Street Journal by Quentin Fottrell, “The Top Ten Things Your Kids Won’t Tell You.”  Two of the Top Ten relevant:

3. “I’ll break your heart.”

People who have kids experience more depression than child-free adults, according to a 2005 report by researchers at Vanderbilt University and Florida State University. Using data collected by the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households, the study concluded that parenthood isn’t associated with enhanced mental health. In fact, the happiest people are likely to be married, earn between $50,000 and $70,000 and have no kids, according to a separate analysis of decades of economic and psychological research by Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. “When it comes to parenting and mental health,” says Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s a bit of a mixed picture.”

Why the glum faces? Financial pressures aside, parents spend years worrying about their children, and often find it difficult to juggle families with careers and relationships, says Sawhill. And a 2011 academic paper by researchers at Arizona State University and Santa Clara University challenges the “conventional view” that parenthood reduces happiness, arguing that parents became happier over time relative to non-parents.

Also on the bright side for parents, at least one study concludes that having a child cuts the risk of early death. In a 2012 study of over 21,000 childless Danish couples, women without children had a fourfold higher rate of premature death, and childless men had a twofold higher rate. The researchers noted that although statistical correlation isn’t causation, the results suggest that people without kids have higher early mortality rates.

So, there is good reason to keep a Boomer marriage strong with “equality, intimacy, friendship, fun, and even passion,” forever young.  It is not the children that keep us alive longer.  It is the grandchildren that keep us alive longer.  It is the grandchildren who help us remember the good family memories that enrich our lives.  This Grandma and Grandpa share greater happiness due to the shared joy the grandchildren bring us.

As you already know, this Grandma’s philosophy is that it is our responsibility to keep the marriage of the parents of our grandchildren strong for the best interests of our grandchildren.  It means, even if we might not have had such support and assistance, to help them, in their hard parenting years, have some free time to “find equality, intimacy, friendship, fun and even passion. . ., “ while we have spoiling time.

As you already know, this Grandma’s philosophy is that we and the parents of our grandchildren are role models and the glue to keep the extended family strong.  Yes, marriage is hard, but by being role models of commitment and intimacy, and helping out the parents of our grandchildren, we Grandmas can help create wonderful memories to make the hard parenting time easier.

The next one of the ten that is relevant is any Boomer parent’s concern:

9.”I’m probably not giving you any grandchildren.”

 Today’s children are far less likely to have children when they grow up than adults of previous generations, based on current trends, studies show. Around one in five American women never have children, compared with one in 10 women 40 years ago, according to a 2010 Pew Research analysis of U.S. Census data. The percentage of child-free adults rose over those four decades for all racial and ethnic groups and most education levels, it found. And while roughly half of those without children cannot have them, Sawhill says, the rest chose to remain child-free. Similarly, one in five men ages 40 to 44 years have no children, a separate 2011 Pew Research study found; among males aged 15 to 44 years, the childless rate rises to 53%.

This trend may be worrying for some Americans, says Sawhill. Some people may wonder, “‘Who’s going to look after the boomers? Who’s going to fight our wars?” she says. But the main reason parents hope their kids will have children, she says, is that they look forward to the day that they will be grandparents. “Grandparents get all of the benefits with none of the costs.”

Grandparents, together, sharing the benefits, is the best time of life, as we try to be the best grandparents in the world with the least responsibility and most





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