September 16, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
We’ve known for a long time that, when someone files for divorce, it’s likely a woman. Back in 1996, Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen analyzed over 40,000 divorce cases in four different states. What they found, among many other things, was that, in 70% of those cases, it was the woman who initiated divorce proceedings. At the time, some radical feminists leapt to the conclusion that those women were just doing what radical feminists had always recommended – getting out of oppressive marriages.
The only problem with that too-convenient conclusion was that it was wrong. In fact, as the study clearly showed, women were the ones to file for divorce because they knew they wouldn’t lose their children. Whatever dissatisfactions they had with their marriages simply didn’t need to be borne. They could walk out, keep the kids and receive child support and alimony, so what was there to keep them in the marriage? By contrast, men were strongly encouraged by the same factors to remain married. For them, the prospect of losing their children, i.e. seeing them four days a month if that often, and paying out huge percentages of their incomes to women who wanted no part of them easily outweighed those marital dissatisfactions every spouse experiences.
Now there’s this that tends to corroborate the Brinig and Allen data (The Telegraph, 8/6/13). Contrary to what those radical feminists of yore wanted us to believe, men don’t stay married because they have a greater level of satisfaction than do women. It seems that, once the kids are out of the nest, there’s a growing trend of their parents divorcing.
The data are from the U.K. but, I suspect, apply to the U.S. as well. In the U.K., while children are still living with their parents, women file for two-thirds of divorces, about the same as the Brinig and Allen data from the U.S. But when those parents reach their 60s, men and women are equally likely to file for divorce.
And the phenomenon is growing. According to the Office for National Statistics,
Among men the divorce rate fell from 13.6 per 1,000 in 1991 to 10.8 in 2001.
But among men over 60 the reverse happened with the rate rising from 1.6 per 1,000 to 2.3 per thousand.
That’s not a lot. Those who’ve reached their retirement years married still tend to remain so. But the trends are striking. The divorce rate is sharply down from the early 90s, but the rate among the over-60 set is headed the opposite way.
Now, this wouldn’t be a normal newspaper if it didn’t at least take a stab at denigrating older men who divorce.
The ONS singled out the fact that people are living longer as the most likely cause for the surge in people heading for the divorce courts as they reach retirement age.
More relaxed attitudes to divorce among the “baby boomer” generation in comparison with their parents and greater financial independence among women were also cited as possible explanations.
But, significantly, the figures show that, in stark contrast to other age groups, men over 60 are as likely to file for divorce as women.
Divorce lawyers said it could be a combination of men experiencing a “delayed midlife crisis” and unhappily married men waiting until they felt they had fulfilled their responsibilities to their wife and family before starting a new life.
But in some cases, they said, it could be the result of a “silver fox” phenomenon with men increasingly living longer and still retaining a wandering eye.
In some cases the desire by one partner to travel the world on a late life “gap year” also proves to be the trigger for a divorce, they added.
Yes, pretty much any explanation will do just as long as it depicts men as overgrown children. Never mind that most of those explanations actually make no sense at all. “Delayed midlife crisis?” Why didn’t they have it earlier? If that’s an individual’s mindset, why wouldn’t he develop it earlier, the way so many people do?
The same is true of the so-called “silver fox” phenomenon. If he’s so hot for women who aren’t his wife, why didn’t he act on the impulse earlier, say, at a time when he might have had a chance at succeeding with a younger woman?
Needless to say, none of those questions occur to the divorce lawyers making free with their opinions. Indeed, the most obvious explanation for older men quitting their marriages is ignored entirely. It may just be that they’ve been fed up with their wives and marriages for years, but they’re too responsible to their kids to bail out until they’re in college.
And of course there’s the Brinig/Allen phenomenon. The men didn’t feel like they could leave their lousy marriages because they knew doing so would mean essentially never seeing their children again. So they waited until that was no longer an issue.
Those are the logical conclusions to draw from the data, which is probably why no one did.
It’s amazing how the news media and the usual riffraff of pop culture will stoop to just about anything to portray men as childish, self-absorbed, uncaring and irresponsible. Every man is Homer Simpson, according to that view.
True, the article tosses in one quotation that deviates somewhat from the “men are scoundrels” narrative.
But [family lawyer Andrew Newbury] added that some unhappily married men chose to “do their duty” and put off separation while their children are growing up.
But, buried in with all the rest of the nonsense about silver foxes and midlife crises, it hardly merits a mention.
Most importantly, the vast majority of older Brits aren’t getting divorced. After perhaps 30 years together, it’s hard to cut those ties.
Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Relate, said: “It is clear from today’s statistics that there are many pressures facing couples as they grow older.
"Relationships are often missing in the current debate on our ageing society but 83 per cent of people we surveyed aged over 50 told us that strong personal relationships were the most important factor to a happy later life.
"This data shows once again that this is a very real issue for many older people."
That’s the nut of the matter for most people of that age range, but the fact that more people are divorcing even after age 60 is a significant phenomenon. They clearly believe that it’s not just relationships, but good ones that matter, and if yours with your spouse doesn’t give what you need or you find you can’t give what you need to give, then walking away is an option.
Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.
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