Al and Tipper and the greatest divorcing cohort ever

They say 1 in 2 marriages will end in divorce. It’s not always clear what we mean when we cite divorce rates. A sensible definition is the likelihood of divorce given the date you were married. And by that definition only the decade of the 70s may be the only one to reach the 1 in 2 value. Al and Tipper Gore recently announced they are parting ways — they were married in 1970, in their early 20s. And health-wise they’re young. There’s still time to find Mr-or-Ms Right.

Pinch hitting freakonomist Betsey Stephenson:

Yes, the one-in-two number is true—or was true—but it took almost 35 years of marriage to get there and this may be the only generation to experience it. Those marrying in the 1980s were less likely to part ways than those marrying in the 1970s, and those marrying in the 1990s and 2000s have been even more reluctant to divorce. Today’s marriages are much more durable than those of the Gore’s generation.

The “greatest divorcing generation” faced a lot of societal changes regarding marriage, which perhaps contributed to their higher rates of divorce compared to earlier or subsequent generations. I’ve argued elsewhere that perhaps one reason for this generation’s higher rates of divorce is that they got married expecting marriages similar to those of their parents’ generation, and found their actual lives and the lives of their peers to be ones of greater gender equality and less household specialization.

But the Gores are also telling us something about gray divorce (as in gray hair, not as in sort of divorced):

The Gore’s generation has not only been getting healthier, but they are young—younger than the current generation will be after 40 years of marriage. Al and Tipper were married in their early twenties, like most of their generation. Today’s generation is marrying in their late 20s—about five years older than the Gore’s generation. That five year difference gives the Gores—plus most of their generation—an extra five years to part ways.

Medical advances mean that today’s aging baby boomers are the first generation to find themselves approaching retirement age both healthy and with decades of living to go. With this longer time horizon, they may think it is worth searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right-for-the-rest-of-my-life, rather than settling with whoever was right for them forty years ago.

Well, that certainly turns “life’s too short” hypothesis on its head.

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