Many people who are considering divorce know that there is a wide range of effects that the legal process can have on their lives, from financial effects to health effects. Yet despite the rising rate of “gray divorce” among older adults, there are few studies that examine the physical and emotional health effects of gray divorce among retirees. According to a recent article in The Detroit News, we need to look more closely at the impact of gray divorce. While it is clear that gray divorce results in substantial financial limitations, those financial limitations-and other issues that arise in divorces among older adults-can affect a person’s health and well-being.
Divorce Over 50: Reassessing the Effects
Divorce among people aged 50 and over is becoming extremely common. Indeed, as the article points out, twice as many people over the age of 50 are divorcing now than they did in 1990. Although wealthy people who get divorced in middle age or afterward may be able to handle the financial setbacks associated with a divorce more easily than middle-class or low-income individuals, even wealthy couples who get divorced when they are older struggle. Wealth cannot protect you from the emotional turmoil of splitting with your spouse.
While divorce can have physical, emotional, and financial effects on people at any age, researchers are starting to reconsider the impact of “gray divorce” and the ways in which it affects a person’s health. As the article underscores, getting divorced after age 50 may have a greater negative impact on your emotional and financial health than getting divorced at a younger age.
According to Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University who also co-directs the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, “gray divorce” comes with more problems than many of us might think. Brown describes the physical and psychological health effects of gray divorce as serious and troubling; many divorcees report high levels of depression. When a person’s emotional or psychological health suffers, the deterioration of the person’s physical health often follows. For some, the psychological effects are linked directly to deep concerns about financial well-being.
Financial Impact of Gray Divorce is More Severe Than You Might Think
For many people, the financial implications of getting divorced at an older age are more problematic than most of us might initially believe. Indeed, as Brown explains, a senior who gets divorced can expect his or her wealth to decline by approximately 50%. Yet that is only the beginning. A large percentage of seniors who get divorced not only lose about half of their accumulated wealth due to property distribution, but they also experience a “collapse” of income due to age and gender.
Women, in particular, have substantial difficulty recovering financially from gray divorce because they lose accumulated wealth and, in addition, see a decline in income as they age. Women experience a decline of about 45% in standard of living after a gray divorce, while men experience a standard-of-living decrease by just over 20%.
Since older adults struggle to recover financially from divorce, many end up experiencing physical health problems as a result of the emotional and psychological effects of financial instability.
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