Divorce in the U.S. surged in the 1970s and 1980s as the baby boomers reached adulthood. As they enter retirement, they’re still splitting up, and it’s having a disproportionate effect on women.
Even as divorce rates for younger Americans have fallen, failed marriages among people over 50 doubled from 1990 to 2010, according to Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research. As a result, the overall risk for getting divorced in the U.S. has remained constant: About half of all marriages will collapse.
It turns out that this may be part of the reason why about one in five Americans over 65 is working — twice as many in the early 1980s and the most since the creation of Medicare. Unlike divorces earlier in life, later breakups have a huge impact on individual finances, often forcing people to delay retirement.
New research suggests this increased monetary stress also plays an outsize role in pushing older women back into the workforce.
According to a study by economists Claudia Olivetti of Boston College and Dana Rotz of Mathematica Policy Research, the later a woman divorces, the more likely she is to be working full time late in life. Using survey data on almost 56,000 women, they found that — compared with women who divorced before age 30 — women who divorced in their 50s were about 10 percentage points more likely to be working full time from ages 50 to 74.
“Past divorce has long-run consequences for older women’s marital, work, and retirement decisions,” Olivetti and Rotz wrote.