Divorce Rates Soar Amongst “Greying” Population

By Charlotte Bumstead
When Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger married in 1986, many eyebrows were raised in bewilderment. As years passed, the princess and the terminator seemingly proved to the public that happy endings were possible for more than the conventional pairing.

Just as the doubters were admitting to false judgment, Shriver, 55, and Schwarzenegger, 63, split after 25 years. Although the unfortunate finale of their marriage is not one to slide beneath the radar, this celeb duo does not stand alone but rather joins the modern crowd of later-in-life divorcees. With 30 years added to the life expectancy over the last century, it’s become clear men and women in their 50s and 60s still have plenty of time for reinventing themselves, and that often means leaving an unhappy relationship—even those reaching a quarter of a century long.

According to Statistics Canada, there is a notable increase in the number of older couples opting for divorce. Although the overall divorce rate fell by more than 11 per cent between 1993 and 2003, divorce among those aged 40-plus was on the rise. For those in the 50-to-54 age group, the divorce rate jumped to 34 per cent. As for boomers between the ages of 55 and 59, divorce rates were peaking at a daunting 47.8 per cent increase. The numbers fell slightly for those in their 60s, but still stood at 31.7 per cent. Among seniors, it dropped remarkably to 9.2 per cent.

As Shriver and Schwarzenegger can attest, there are no signs showing the trend of the “grey divorce” is slowing down. So what’s with the dramatic shift? Psychologist Al Riediger says it is a matter of viewing one’s own best interests rather than following old-fashioned rules and wading through misery. “Quite often people stay together for the kids,” he says. “When the kids are grown and on their way, Mom and Dad look across the table and say: ‘Why are we here?’” He also suggests that in the past, financial situations were often the glue holding such gloomy relationships together, but this is less common with today’s more affluent populations.

Other media sources are beginning to join in on the Zoomer message: what better time than now? If we are not going to fight for self-contentment at 60, when will we? “We are coming of old age in a way that parallels our first coming of age,” reports Newsweek in its June edition. “As we head for 60 we know that statistically we are old. But we don’t feel old.” This is the time to enjoy the sense of liberation the boomer generation has been fighting for. They’ve raised their children, they’ve worn their wedding bands—the future they imagined for so long has already happened. Now it’s time to focus on number one. Second chances don’t wait forever.

For Shriver, a life without Schwarzenegger offers a fresh start. For Schwarzenegger, it’s a chance to re-evaluate. Both are offered an opportunity to take a hard look at the meaning of marriage and to move forward. They are older and wiser now. They are experienced. Let’s hope they have better luck the next time around.