Canadian couples are more open to seeking divorce in later life, and research suggests this can impact women more than men.
In Canada, the average age for divorce has been steadily rising over the years, partly because people are increasingly getting married at a later age. In 2020, the average age of divorce was 48 years, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada.
Over the last three decades, the country has seen a rise in “grey divorce” when couples aged 50 years and older split up, according to StatCan, although the divorce rates in that age group have stabilized more recently, dipping in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The breakdown of a marriage is never easy, but divorce at an older age beyond 50 has its unique set of challenges, experts say.
There seems to be less of a stigma around divorce and older couples are more willing to end their marriage if they are not happy with it, said Kevin Caspersz, a family lawyer in Vaughan, Ont. and managing partner at Caspersz Chegini LLP.
Caspersz told Global News that in the past 10 years, he has seen an increase in “grey divorce”, particularly with individuals 65 or older seeking to end their marriages.
“It’s definitely more prevalent over the years,” he said. “They (senior couples) look at it as they only have so much more time left to enjoy life and if they’re not happy in their relationship, the children have left the home. (There’s an) empty nest, they see no reason in continuing the marriage.”
Rachel Margolis, a professor in the sociology department at the University of Western Ontario, said there are multiple factors that can contribute to a “grey divorce.”
One of them is that baby boomers, who are aged 60 to 78, have gone through different social changes during their lives.
“A lot of these people who are now older adults in Canada, they married young, they (may have) got divorced in their 20s, and we know that people who have already been divorced are more likely to divorce again,” Margolis said.
Baby boomers also have more wealth than any other generation in history, so they can afford to live in separate households, she added.
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In addition, there is a significant number of unmarried older people than ever before, meaning there are more people out there to re-partner with after divorce, Margolis said.
“The baby boomers know that the stigma against divorce has really declined a lot over time,” she added. “So maybe in the past, a couple would have decided to stay together, but all of these things make it easier if people do want to get divorced.”
While there are fewer parental responsibilities to worry about at an older age since the children are grown up and most likely independent, a “grey divorce” can still be a financial burden on both parties.
The concern is that the couples in a “grey divorce” don’t have many years of work left as a younger couple would and therefore have less time to rebuild lost assets, experts say. Meanwhile, the high cost of living and economic uncertainty has been weighing heavy on Canadians across the country, impacting the retirement plans for many.
A report by the Toronto Metropolitan University’s National Institute on Ageing (NIA) published last week showed that one in four Canadians aged 50 and older say that their income is not enough for them. Only about a third (35 per cent) in that age group said they could afford to retire when they wish to, the report said.
In another survey by the TD Bank Group published in December, four in 10 (43 per cent) Canadian adults said that they are “not confident” that they will be able to retire when initially planned.
A Deloitte Canada analysis published a week before that also showed that 55 per cent of Canadians aged between 55 and 64 years will have to make changes to their lifestyles to avoid outliving their savings.
“If they are leaving that relationship with some sort of financial instability or let’s say, even some sort of support obligations, then that can be a real concern,” Caspersz said.
“And some might even have to consider putting off their retirement in order to satisfy the obligations resulting from the divorce and separation,” he added. “So, the lifestyle they perhaps were expecting to have in retirement is now in jeopardy or looks very different.”
Data suggests that the financial impact of a grey divorce tends to be greater on women than men.
A Statistics Canada study published last year showed that at ages 54 to 56, the income losses of divorced women were higher compared to single, married and widowed women. The study used tax data up from 1982 to 2020.
“Divorce also had a negative financial impact on men, but they were more likely, on average, to have higher incomes than women at ages 70 to 80,” the StatCan study said.
Margolis said even though women are more likely than men to initiate a divorce in the first place, when couples split up, men generally end up with more wealth and income than women on average.
In the current housing market, with prices through the roof and high interest rates, finding another home can also be a challenge when couples split up.
“Because the housing prices have increased so much in Canada, it’s just harder for people who are getting divorced now than in the past to find adequate housing,” Margolis said. “So, what we sometimes see is that people and especially women are pulling resources together and might live with friends or might live with family members.”
Having a prenuptial agreement or a marriage contract in place can be helpful to separate any assets the couple have accumulated over time, Caspersz said.
The emotional toll of a long marriage ending is also likely to hit women harder, some research suggests.
A study using data from Finland published Tuesday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed an accelerated increase in the use of antidepressants in both men and women aged 50 to 70 years immediately before divorce, but women in that age group had greater increases, the study found. Although the use of antidepressants declined at the time of re-partnering, this reduction was small and short-lived, and was not observed in female divorcees, the authors concluded.
“The smaller declines in antidepressant use associated with re-partnering in women than in men may be related to the explanations that marriage benefits men’s mental health to a greater extent than women’s, and older men are more likely than women to seek (new partners),” the study authors said.
“In addition, women may take greater responsibilities to manage interpersonal relationships (within) blended families, such as those with the (new) partner’s children, which could undermine their mental health.”
Adult children and grandchildren can play a supporting role here and help the divorced couple adjust to their new life, experts say.
“I think that all children can try to be accommodating to their parents and realize that their parents are choosing what they want for themselves and try and be supportive of that even if it makes life more complicated,” Margolis said.