Recent news of the separation of Al and Tipper Gore after more than 40 years of marriage has drawn attention to a modern sociological trend of increasing divorce rates among older couples leaving long-term marriages. Several recent articles shed light on this phenomenon.
Author Deirdre Bair’s research indicated the following:
Men and women I interviewed insisted they did not divorce foolishly or impulsively. Most of them mentioned “freedom.” Another word I heard a lot was “control”; people wanted it for themselves for the rest of their lives. Women had grown tired of taking care of house, husband and grown children; men were tired of working to support wives who they felt did not appreciate them and children who did not respect them. Women and men alike wanted time to find out who they were. . . .
Many stories ended with some rendition of, “It’s my time and if I don’t take it now, I never will.” No matter whether they had spent years gearing up for divorce or decided on the spur of the moment after one minor disagreement too many, few had regrets. Men who wanted new companionship easily found it, and women who wanted new partners had them within two years.
Divorce is easier now. Our retirement years are longer and healthier. Both men and women often have enough money to make changes. And the stigma of divorce has long since faded.
It is the case that long-married couples are more likely now to divorce than ever before. In prior generations, the marriages of couples in their 50s or 60s typically ended when one partner died. That divorce has become a more common ending to long-term marriages reflects two developments, one cultural, the other biological.
The cultural development is that people want more from marriage than they ever have, an expectation embodied in the idea of soul mate, a partner who can not only help to pay the bills and raise the children but who understands you to your core. People now want a marriage that promotes their personal fulfillment.
The biological development is that people are living longer than ever.
A 58-year-old with only a few good years of life to go might decide to tough it out through a less than fulfilling marriage, but if he or she can reasonably expect to live another two decades in decent health — as the Gores well might — then the calculus shifts. For such couples, if they think correctly that they would be more fulfilled outside the marriage than in it, then why shouldn’t they divorce?
In the case of the Gores, they have already accomplished the primary social function of marriage: the bearing and rearing of children. If the children are no longer bearing the cost of their divorce, they should be free to make whatever decision seems right for them.
As a society, we’ve come to accept that people may want to live their young adult lives singly. Why shouldn’t they be able to live their later adult lives singly as well?
I think Professor Banks hits the nail on the head. This interesting article contains additional analysis from other researchers, including prominent economists and sociologists.
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.