While divorce rates have fallen for the general population in recent years, many studies have shown that rates have remained high or even increased for Americans over age 50. Some commentators have referred to the phenomenon as "gray divorce."
A recent study by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University found that gray divorce can take a larger financial toll on women. This is because women typically make less than men and are often reliant on a husband's income. A divorce after 50 cuts a person's wealth roughly by half, but since women make less than men, they have a harder time making up for the loss. Thus, their standard of living tends to drop 45% while men in this age group experience a drop of only around 21%.
Furthermore, women tend to have less saved for their retirement than men. Since women are more likely to take time away from working to raise children, they tend to have less accrued for their Social Security retirement benefits. They often have less saved up in private retirement accounts as well. A survey by the financial company T. Rowe Price found that Baby Boomer men have an average of $108,000 in their 401(k) accounts, while women have an average of only $59,000.
The study found that 27% of women who divorce later in life live at or below the poverty line. That's higher than the percentage for many other segments of the female population, including widows.
These statistics may be frightening for many women over 50 who are contemplating divorce, but they should go into the process fully aware of the risks they face. With the help of a skilled family law attorney, women and men can work toward a divorce settlement that is fair to both parties and will give them the resources they need as they move own toward independent lives.