While the number of married couples splitting up of all ages is disconcertingly high, divorce for those 50 and older is rising faster than any other age group. In fact, since 1990, the divorce rate for older folks has doubled, with 50- to 64-year-olds leading the pack.
The reasons for this increase in seniors uncoupling, known as “gray divorce,” are myriad. People are living longer and feel they have plenty of time to start over. Today’s women are more financially independent than previous generations; therefore, they don’t feel stuck in bad marriages because of money. Second and third (and beyond) marriages are more likely to split—and there are more remarried people in this age group. Some people even speculate that the expectations for marriage over 50 are higher. As people get older, they’re not marrying to create a family but instead expecting marriage to contribute to their happiness.
Despite the reasons, gray divorce can cause a high degree stress. It’s number 2 on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory! When chronic stress goes untreated, it can increase one’s risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and a weakened immune system, plus can exacerbate existing health problems. When people are divorcing, they often also experience depression, which can be a risk factor for heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Here are some other possible health consequences of untying the knot:
- People who are going through a divorce may have trouble sleeping, which can cause them to forget to take medications or lack the energy to exercise.
- Quitting an exercise regimen or simply becoming more sedentary can, in turn, make it harder to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Once alone, divorcees can become isolated—men, in particular, because women tend to be the social coordinators of the couple. Isolation can negatively impact seniors both physically and cognitively.
- Overdoing it. When a long relationship ends, seniors may overeat, overspend, abuse substances or participate in other potentially destructive activities.
Has gray divorce has affected you, or someone you love?