The gray divorce rate has doubled in the past two decades, rising from 5 to 10 divorces per 1,000 married population ages 50 and older. More than 1 in 4 people who divorced in 2010 were ages 50+ compared with less than 1 in 10 in 1990. The recent rise in gray divorce coupled with the aging of the population foregrounds the urgency of investigating the life course factors associated with divorce during older adulthood and the ramifications for individual well-being. It also raises new questions about what happens after a gray divorce: how common is re-partnering, whether through cohabitation or remarriage, and to what extent does re-partnering ameliorate any negative effects of divorce on individual well-being? Although gray divorce is accelerating, social scientists lack a basic understanding of divorce and re-partnering that occur during later life. We use prospective, longitudinal data from the 1992-2010 Health and Retirement Study to begin to fill this critical gap. We estimate discrete time event history models to assess the life course factors (e.g., empty nest, retirement, and poor health) that are associated with gray divorce and subsequent re=partnering. And, we use latent growth models to investigate how gray divorce is linked to trajectories in health and economic well-being, as well as the extent to which re-partnering offers appreciable gains in well-being. Throughout the project, we assess variation by gender, marriage order, and cohort. The implications of gray divorce are substantial, shaping not only the couple but also the well-being of family members, such as children and grandchildren, and the demands placed on broader institutional support systems designed for older adults and their families. Society at large will need to respond to the shifting (and potentially diminishing) family resources and supports that are available to older adults. As such, this project aligns with the research priorities of the NIA described in its strategic plan for research on aging in the 21st century. Ths project fully incorporates two undergraduate and one graduate research assistant to expose students to all stages of the research process and enhance the BGSU research environment.

Public Health Relevance

Gray divorce is an important yet overlooked public health issue that likely shapes individual health and well-being. More than 600,000 adults aged 50 and older got divorced in 2010. Gray divorce (and subsequent re-partnering) also may have ramifications for the well-being of family members and intensify the demands placed on the broader institutional support systems available to older adults. Thus, this project aligns with NIA's core research goals outlined in its strategic plan. The findings from this study will inform social science and public health disciplines, especially in the areas of aging, demography, and family, by elucidating the dynamics of gray divorce and subsequent.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Gerald, Melissa S
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Bowling Green State University
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Bowling Green
United States
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