Seniors embrace the single life

The ‘grey divorce’ trend is on the rise in Australia, with new data revealing close to a third (32 per cent) of divorces are taking place after the age of 50.

The research revealed a growing proportion of older couples are splitting up, with more than half (51 per cent) of over 50s admitting grey divorces are becoming more common among their peers, while two in five (41 per cent) older Australians have experienced divorce or separation in their lifetime.

The Love After 50 Report is the result of a national survey commissioned by Australian Seniors and collated in partnership with consumer research group CoreData to uncover how we’re approaching relationships and what factors drive satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

The findings point to empty nest syndrome as the leading cause for almost half (48 per cent) of divorces after the age of 50. Meanwhile, financial pressures (35 per cent) and retirement adjustments (34 per cent) were also amongst the top reasons for divorce and separation, suggesting economic uncertainty is putting a strain on older couples.

“The findings from this research are deeply concerning,” psychiatrist, author and couple therapist, Dr George Blair-West said.

“Divorce rates have been falling in Australia since they peaked in the 1990s. Divorce rates in the over 50s, however, have bucked the trend.”

On the flip side, over half (57 per cent) of older Australians are content with being single after 50. The trend of choosing personal happiness first rings true for almost half (46 per cent) of divorcees who prefer to stay single, while only 4 per cent hope to get remarried. According to the findings, more than half (55 per cent) of single seniors are enjoying the benefits of additional personal space (73 per cent), greater independence (72 per cent) and peace and quiet (63 per cent). While more than half (55 per cent) of singles feel satisfied in the absence of a committed partner, the research suggests women are far more comfortable about this (61 per cent) than men (47 per cent).

On a macro level, shifting societal expectations around marriage and divorce are also driving the rise in the ‘grey divorce’. According to the report, around a third (34 per cent) of over 50s believe societal attitudes towards divorce and separation are becoming more acceptable these days, and increased expectations of marriage compared to previous generations (30 per cent) are key contributors to the growing trend.

“The current over-50s cohort typically married in their early 20s before their personalities and core values had consolidated. People literally grow apart as they mature in different directions, so it’s no surprise that it is the number one cause of divorce,” Dr Blair-West explained.

“Fortunately, these issues are eminently fixable through low-level couple therapy. Given that divorce is in the top three of life’s most distressing events, it’s worth working on.”

While the average Australian couple over 50 has been together for 34 years, almost three-quarters (74 per cent) admit they’re facing challenges in their relationship. In fact, close to two in five (37 per cent) have had doubts about continuing their current relationship, and a quarter (25 per cent) have even seriously considered the possibility of separating or getting divorced.

Interestingly, the latter is more likely among couples in their 50s (32 per cent) than any other cohort, suggesting many are pursuing personal fulfilment in their ‘second act’ over societal pressures to stay in unsatisfying relationships.

“The good news is that re-partnering later in life means people are much more able to choose a partner who aligns with their values and the life that they want”, Dr Blair-West said. “Maturity brings an ability to better assess a potential partner’s character and thereby make a better match.”

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