The first of the baby boom generation are turning 65 this year. In Illinois, boomers make up between 20 and 25 percent of the population -- about the same as the U.S. If you look around your neighborhood or your workplace, try to figure out how many boomers you know have been married to the same spouse for 20 years or more. The numbers are dwindling, it seems, giving boomers a higher divorce rate than any generation in history.
National statistics tell part of the story. Looking at people in their 70s now, those of the generation before the boomers, about a quarter of them have been divorced. For the mid-range of the boomers, though, the people in their 50s, that number is just higher than 35 percent.
One reason may be that women in this generation have more economic and social freedom than their predecessors. They feel more confident on their own.
Of course, that same economic freedom may be one reason partners are less satisfied with one another. Family law professionals say they are seeing more couples splitting up because they've grown apart or have spent their lives together raising their children instead of building their relationship. When the kids leave, they can't remember why they were together.
As a result, more couples are opting for mediation or, in the very least, being less acrimonious when they divorce. The focus, it seems, is still on the children: Let's remain friendly so we can enjoy our kids and grandkids.
There are marriages, though, that end abruptly after 20 or 25 years. There's the traditional "little red corvette" mid-life crisis, certainly, but there are also a number of cases of one partner saying it's time to break up and the other wondering what just happened.
Boomers are also apparently a generation of addicts. Family law attorneys say they have seen a number of couples splitting up because one is a drinker and the other can't live that way anymore -- especially after the kids are gone.
After the long-term marriage ends, women tend to stay single or cohabit. Men are less likely to stay single. It's interesting to note that cohabitation is a growing trend across generations, but it's growing fastest among boomers in their 50s right now.
For whatever reason, Illinois boomer and non-boomer couples are doing better than couples in almost every other state. The most recent divorce rate for this state was 2.5 per 1,000 residents.
Source: The Kansas City Star, "Gray divorces: Long-married boomers cut the knot," Bill Ward, 07/18/2011