At first, Kathy, 53 years old, spoke to me calmly, but as the minutes ticked away, her voice started to crack. Her husband had a long-standing problem with alcohol. The couple, married for more than 25 years, had one son, and tried to keep the marriage together by seeing a therapist. But there came a decisive moment when she could no longer keep the relationship going. She told me: ‘I discovered a hotel receipt and went and counselled with our priest at that point. [The hotel receipt] was for the Oriental Fantasy suite at [this hotel] at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday morning and I’m quite certain I wasn’t there at the time.’ At that point, she knew that her marriage was over.
Kathy experienced a mid-life or what is also known as a ‘grey divorce’. A grey divorce is simply a divorce that occurs at or after the age of 50. Even though the divorce rate across all age groups has stabilised, the number of grey divorces in the United States has recently dramatically increased. Currently, about one out of every four divorces is grey.
What has caused this dramatic surge in grey divorces? First has simply been the ageing of the Baby Boomer generation. In 1990, there were only 63.5 million Americans aged 50 and older, but by 2010, there were 99 million in this same age group. By 2050, the US Census Bureau predicts that there will be 158.5 million individuals aged 50 and over. In addition to the growth in absolute numbers of such individuals, life expectancy has mostly continued to tick upwards. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1950, men could be expected to live, on average, 65.6 years, while women could be expected to live 71.1 years, on average. By 2016, these ages had increased to 76.1 and 81.1, respectively. Both of these factors have worked to expose ever-greater numbers of couples to the possibility of a grey divorce.