Why Are Baby Boomer Divorces Surging As Overall Divorce Rates Decline?
There is good news and bad news in the world of marriage and divorce. The good news: the divorce rate in the U.S. has fallen to just above 40 percent after years of a 50 percent plateau. The bad: that overall decline has taken place in spite of a huge surge in divorces among baby boomers. Their divorce rate is 50 percent higher than it was 20 years ago.
In a recent CNN.com op-ed, Pepper Schwartz attempts to answer the question, “Why are baby boomers so divorce-prone?” Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington and a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, has some interesting ideas.
Essentially, Schwartz’s argument is that baby boomers are creating new norms for middle and late-middle age simply because they have done so for every other stage of their lives; they have always approached the status quo critically. As young adults, many took part in strong movements for change, from war protest to civil, women’s, and gay rights.
Boomers have challenged any number of norms in domestic life. Baby boomer women had more romantic partners and many, many more employment opportunities than previous generations. The generation led a reexamination of the necessity of marriage and the qualities of a good one. However, many individuals addressed these ideas after getting married themselves, and a skyrocketing divorce rate in the 60s and 70s followed.
Now, Schwartz says, boomers are doing away with tradition again. They are living longer and staying employed later than their parents did. And many regard their 50s and 60s as just as rich in opportunity for love and new experiences as their 20s and 30s were.
Schwartz theorizes that younger adults of Generation X will not follow in the footsteps of the boomers, and will instead usher in a lower divorce rate. Today’s younger adults often come from divorced families, and they are keen to avoid the same fate for their own children. A Pew Research study shows a full two thirds of boomers would prefer to divorce rather than stay in an unhappy marriage; only 54 percent of younger adults hold the same view. Next, Generation X-ers marry later, when they are more mature, financially stable, and experienced in relationships. And finally, many have already experienced economic and financial turmoil in their adulthoods, unlike many boomers. These experiences have led them to place great emphasis on sticking together for economic security.
As individuals in successive generations rethink what love and family mean for them, it is fascinating to watch individual choices coalesce into immense and lasting demographic shifts.