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Divorce Timing and Economic Well-being
Ashley Spangler, Susan L. Brown, I-Fen Lin, Anna Hammersmith, & Matthew Wright
The majority (79%) of divorced older adults (i.e., aged 50 and older) experienced divorce before age 50.
Figure 1. Distribution of Divorce by Divorce Groups
Divorce Groups
In contrast, only 11% of older adults who are divorced experienced a gray divorce.
Divorce careerists comprise 10% of those who have ever divorced.
The timing of divorce in the life course may have important economic implications for older adults. Prior research has shown that gray divorce, which occurs after age 50, is associated with fewer financial resources compared with divorce that occurred at younger ages, at least among women (Lin, Brown, & Hammersmith, in press). In this study, we not only compare people who divorced before versus after age 50, but also include individuals who experienced a divorce both prior to and following age 50, hereafter referred to as “divorce careerists.” Using data from the 1992-2012 Health and Retirement Study, we examine all respondents who had ever experienced a divorce and were respondents in 2012. From this sample of divorcees, we compared these three divorce groups across multiple economic indicators, including total assets, employment status, and homeownership.
Total Assets by Divorce Group and Gender
Percentage Homeowners by Divorce Group and Gender
Divorce careerists have the fewest assets on average, suggesting that experiencing a divorce both before 50 and after 50 takes a toll on the financial well-being of older adults.
On average, adults who divorce before 50 tend to have lower assets than adults who experience a gray divorce.
Overall, men tend to have more assets than women across all divorce groups.
Homeownership is more common among adults who divorce before 50 compared to the other two divorce groups.
For adults who divorced before age 50, men (73%) are more often homeowners than women (66%).
Women who are divorce careerists are more often homeowners (57%) than men who are divorce careerists (48%).
Figure 2. Value of total Assets by Divorce Groups & Gender
Figure 3. Homeownership by Divorce Groups & Gender
Working full time
Working part time
Not in the labor force
Divorce Before 50
Divorce After 50
Divorce Careerists
Employment Status by Divorce Group and Gender
Spangler, A., Brown, S. L., Lin, I.-F., Hammersmith, A., Wright, M. (2016). Divorce Timing and Economic Well-being (FP-16-01). National Center for Family & Marriage Research. Retrieved from:
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For older men who divorced before 50, 42% are working full time compared to 32% of women who divorced before 50.
Not being in the labor force is more common for women who divorce before 50 (61%) than men who divorce before 50 (55%).
For older adults who experience a gray divorce, men are more often working full time (36%) than women (24%), and women are more often working part time or not in the labor force (6% and 70%, respectively) compared to men (4% and 60%, respectively).
There are no significant gender differences for divorce careerists, but the results suggest that men are more often working full time or part time compared to women, whereas women are more often not in the labor force.
Note: Column totals equal 100%
Figure 4. Employment Status by Divorce Groups & Gender
005 Williams Hall Bowling Green State University Bowling Green, OH 43403
This project is supported with assistance from Bowling Green State University. From 2007 to 2013, support was also provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s) and should not be construed as representing the opinions or policy of any agency of the state or federal government.
National Center for Family & Marriage Research
Family Profiles: Original reports summarizing and analyzing nationally representative data with the goal to provide the latest analysis of U.S. families. These profiles examine topics related to the NCFMR's core research themes.