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Two faculty members discover upward trend in divorce rates for people over 50 years old

Al Gore’s divorce lead to two faculty members discovering a trend of rising divorce rates of people around the age of 50 to 60 years old.

When associate professor of sociology I-Fen Lin and Sociology Department Chair Susan Brown heard about the divorce, they were curious to see if others were doing the same thing around that age.

“They were married for a long time,” Brown said. “We wanted to see how common it is for older people to do this.”

She said a higher divorce rate could have serious implications.

“They could have implications for health and wellbeing,” she said. “There are consequences of divorce later in life.”

They looked through census survey data to discover a trend. It was found that since 1990, the divorce rate for people over the age of 50 has doubled. Also, for people over the age of 65, the rate has more than doubled.

“The largest is those that have gotten divorced before,” Lin said. “They are the biggest factor for the ‘gray divorce’. It’s about 2.5 times more likely to get divorced again.”

Brown and Lin refer to the older divorce rates as the ‘gray divorce.’

They have also found that factors such as education, race and ethnicity have almost no correlation with the divorce rate increase.

Lin said the National Institute of Aging gave the two faculty members a three-year grant starting this year in September. They want them to try and discover why the trend is rising.

“We are going to look at the causes and consequences of ‘gray divorce’ and see if they get re-partnered. Also to see if it is better on recovery for divorce.”

Lin said it is important to know and understand why this is happening for several reasons.

“Who is going to help those parents?” she asked. “Usually the spouse is the caregiver if one gets sick.”

Brown said the real question is who is going to take care of the divorcees once they lose their spouse.

“If they don’t have anyone, the burden falls on society to help them,” she said.

Lin had another reason society should be concerned.

“Secondly, the financial well-being is important,” she said. “They no longer have resources to share, it’s usually split up. In your 30s, you can recover, go back to the labor market and find a job to work and get security and pension. But that is not the case for people in their 50s and 60s.”

Lin was also concerned about their emotional well being.

“We also need to see health consequences for divorce, like being sick or depressed after it,”she said.

To help with the study, Brown and Lin have two graduate and two undergraduate students working with them.

“It’s great for them to learn outside of the classroom, seeing how to do research,” Brown said. “They are very excited about the project, because not only are they learning about later life, but also learning survey data.”

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