And here we thought the divorce rate was going down. After all, we’ve read that the number of divorces in recent years has been stabilizing and declining. But it’s important to take these statistics with a grain of salt. Many young people choose to cohabit rather than tie the knot. Increasingly, lower-income households opt for the cohabitation path as well. The net result: fewer marriages, fewer divorces, and seemingly fewer opportunities for ministry.
Even as divorce rates have declined for some demographics, they have exploded for those over the age of fifty—baby boomers who fall into the so-called “gray divorce” demographic.
Startling new research is showing that the divorce rate for baby boomers is 50 percent higher than the rest of our culture. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as other publications, have done major stories on this trend.
To help you understand this trend and its impact on churches, I’ve compiled the following information from my book Gray Divorce Crisis: 10 Ways Your Church Can Respond to the Baby Boomer Divorce Epidemic.
What is gray divorce?
- A recent cultural trend of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) who are getting divorced, frequently after long-term marriages of twenty-five years or more.
- Al and Tipper Gore are one example. Shortly after celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary in 2010, the couple publicly announced their divorce, taking their friends (and the nation as a whole) by surprise.
- Gray divorce has upended the notion that seemingly committed, long-term marriages are safe from divorce.
Who is getting gray divorces?
- Gray divorce applies to those who are over the age of fifty.
- Since 1990 the divorce rate has doubled for people age fifty and older (while declining for the population as a whole). By 2030 it is projected to rise by one-third to 828,380.1
- Boomers in their fifties and sixties comprise the vast majority of these divorces. In 2010, just over a half million people between the ages of fifty and sixty-four got divorced, versus around 113,310 persons over the age of sixty-five.2
Who is impacted by gray divorce?
- The couple: After a divorce, former spouses often deal with the loss of financial security, retirement income, health insurance, family and church support, friends, a home, and possibly even a beloved pet. There are also health implications, chance of depression, heightened stress, and increased chance of harmful behaviors.
- Grown children: Grown children must come to terms with the end of their parents’ relationship; it can impact views of their own marriage and their perspective on their childhood.
- Churches: Often when there is a divorce, one or both individuals leave their church. This means loss of seasoned leaders and crucial financial support.
What factors contribute to gray divorce?
- Empty nest syndrome
- Pressures of retirement
- Increased life expectancy
- Unresolved conflict left to fester for decades
- A tragic (or major) life event
- Continued cultural acceptance of divorce
- More economic independence and opportunity for women
- A transient and mobile society
How it’s impacting churches
- Loss of seasoned church leaders as one spouse leaves
- Loss of knowledge, experience, and expertise as a person that age leaves
- Disillusioned spouses left behind; shaken faith
- Emotional aftermath, extending to spouses, adult children, grandchildren, parents/in-laws, and long-term friends
- Decrease in consistent financial support—boomers in peak earning years either leave or now have the monetary stresses of divorce
What can churches do about it?
- Educate your church about the gray divorce crisis
- Use the tragedy of gray divorce as an evangelism tool
- Encourage mediation and reconciliation
- Offer healthy solutions for loneliness, depression, and anger
- Provide financial resources and knowledge
- Launch a DivorceCare ministry
To read more about this phenomenon and what your church can do, download the free ebook Gray Divorce Crisis: 10 Ways Your Church Can Respond to the Baby Boomer Divorce Epidemic.
Looking for a proven divorce-recovery program your church can offer? Consider DivorceCare.
- Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin, “The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce Among Middle-aged and Older Adults, 1990–2010,” National Center for Family & Marriage Research Working Paper Series WP-13-03, March 2013. https://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/college-of-arts-and-sciences/NCFMR/documents/Lin/The-Gray-Divorce.pdf