Boomers and the Divorce Rate

Mister and Mrs. Boomer celebrated an anniversary recently. That in and of itself is not news, but what has been in the news lately is the divorce rate among Baby Boomers. Most of Mister B’s boomer friends have been married for 30 to 40 years, but evidently this is now an exception rather than the rule. The national divorce rate has hovered around 50 percent for the past couple of decades, but government records are saying the divorce rates are dropping for every age group except those in the 50-plus demographic: Baby Boomers. According to AARP, in the 1950s less than 3 percent of men and women over 50 were divorced; now that percent is 17.5 and rising.

The Internet is filled with people trying to figure out why this is so, but there are a few things that come up as possible reasons including attitudes on recreational sex, the age at which many boomers married, changing gender roles and job opportunities for women.

We were the generation that wanted to do everything different than our parents. The mantra of “free love” may not have been as prevalent as even today by comparison, but we broke with the traditions of our parents’ generation. As the sixties became the seventies, recreational sex was much more acceptable to a changing society. Despite the loosening of sexual mores, boomers still tended to marry around the same age as the previous generation. Mister Boomer recalls that when all of his cousins turned 21 — men and women — it seemed automatic that they would be married within a year. A good portion of Baby Boomers were married with children by age 25, and certainly by 30.

Since we were the generation that was out to redefine everything, gender roles were changing. A woman was no longer relegated to the kitchen and at home to raise the children. Dads slowly started taking a more active role in domestic chores and child rearing, especially when the Women’s Liberation Movement began to open doors for employment.

So, what happened? Why would a married lifestyle that we boomers helped to form become less desirable, especially as we aged? Some speculate that our earlier experimental life — with drugs, sex and career — made us prone to divorce through wanderlust. Many boomers saw themselves in a situation that resembled the marriages their parents had, but being different, decided they didn’t have to stay together “for the sake of the children.”

Others point to the fact that since we are living longer, our expectations may have changed. “Hope I die before get old” is not on the table for a good many of us now, though we hold steadfast to that phrase, “60 is the new 50.” What the future holds is a mystery, but for a generation that reached for utopian ideals, buffet dinner with your spouse at 4 pm and pudding cups at 8 are unthinkable.

Others still point to the fact that we are the generation who continues to think differently, especially about aging. We’re more fit than our predecessors at our age, and consequently, more in tune with body image. Aging boomers are more apt to spend time sculpting and primping their bodies than any generation that came before. That narcissistic tendency developed in boomers decades ago has resulted in a throwback to the desire to “love the one you’re with.”  While it sounded like an ideal situation 40 years ago, it’s a poison pill to long-term relationships.

Whatever the reason, more boomers are facing divorce after age 50. That sounds sad to Mister B, but at the same time, kind of liberating. Mister B thinks it may be that boomers are taking the songs of their era to heart. One in particular comes to mind:

But if you must go, I won’t tell you no
Just so we can say that we tried
Tell me you’ll love me for a million years
Then if it don’t work out, and if it don’t work out
Then you can tell me goodbye*

Today marriage is being reshaped again as kids are getting married at a later age, cohabitating and calling it quits if it doesn’t work, and avenues to same-gender partners that were previously blocked are opening. It sounds like we boomers set the pace for what has happened after all. Since the divorce rate for younger people is less, we taught them well. As for Mister Boomer, he is quite content to be married to a wonderful spouse, secure in the knowledge that she will still be sending him a Valentine, birthday greetings and a bottle of wine — when he’s 64.

Have you or your boomer friends divorced after 50, boomers?

*Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, written by John D.  Loudermilk and recorded by The Casinos in 1967 and many others, among them Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams and on and on.

2 thoughts on “Boomers and the Divorce Rate”

  1. The second verse contains some of the greatest lyrics ever:
    “Sweeten my coffee with a morning kiss
    Soften my dreams with your sighs
    Tell me you’ll love me for a million years
    Then if it don’t work out
    Then if it don’t work out
    Then you can tell me goodbye” .

    But the next verse goes on to say:
    “If you must go, oh no, I won’t grieve
    If you wait a lifetime before you leave”. So i think it anticipates not the freedom to up and leave, but to stay forever. After all, a million years is a long, long time…

  2. Johnny Matt -er – Mathis’ version of ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’ is at least as good as the Casinos’ – perhaps even better. The crooner took an almost Country song and gave it soul.

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