There is renewed spotlight on the ‘grey divorce’ trend following the recent announcement of one of the most high-profile, and highly-priced, separations in the world. Bill and Melinda Gates, in a statement dated May 3, said they had decided to end their decades-long marriage since “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple.”
The Microsoft CEO and business magnate is 65 years old while his former wife is 56. The two had been married for 27 years and known each other for multiple more. Aside from grabbing eyeballs for staking their billions-worth empire in the mix, the Gates’ divorce announcement prompted another hot question: why now?
Why, after years of union, choose this time to separate? What was so irreconcilable as to push the couple towards severing a bond that would have seen them through their old age? And, of course, the most eagerly discussed of all, why cause an imbalance in what is currently among the world’s biggest jointly owned fortunes? What happens to the money?
Neither is the phenomenon of an older couple separating all too novel nor is it unpopular today. The grey divorce trend has been common for quite some years now.
Used to signify couples that have been married for many years but are choosing to make the split when older – “diamond splitters,” so to speak – grey divorce as a recognised term has been around in the United States since the new millennium. That’s only as far as records go. The concept itself would go several years further back.
What Drives Grey Divorce?
It’s not hidden that divorce carries the weight of taboo the world over; visibly more in countries like India where the divorce rate is shockingly low at 1 percent. That burden is surmounted when the couple has spent a good many years of their lives together and is choosing to go their own ways near middle age or old age.
As per one research that records grey divorce statistics only “represented as the number of divorces per 1,000 married women aged 50 and older,” such divorces have seen a dip in the United States since 2008. Is it because the stigma attached to grey divorces for women is far higher than that attached for men? Or is it because more older women are genuinely finding satisfaction in marriage?
Who shoulders the weight of social stigma in a grey divorce?
Certified divorce finance analyst Marguerita Cheng pegs financial management among the top reasons that drive grey divorces. She writes for Forbes, “Couples who struggle with debt or constantly fight about finances often end up divorcing… Research has shown that marriage grows stronger when the husband increases his earnings; conversely, the marriage more often fails if the wife’s earnings increase.”
Often financial convenience is what stretches marriage, especially in countries where the gender index reflects a gap in opportunity for men and women. Can money trump love?
In the case of the Gates’ divorce, reasons and terms of separation have not been made clear. Even with the assets he has till now shaken up to transfer billions to his former wife, he remains the fourth-richest man in the world. Melinda Gates on the other hand stands to be the second-richest woman in the world if the duo’s $145 billion empire is divided equally. It’s safe to say that financially, their respective net worths are currently sturdy as they start a “new life.”
Before Time Runs Out
There are other reasons experts have found that impact an increase in grey divorce trends, ranging from general incompatibility, infidelity, or with couples just growing apart. Dr John Duffy, psychologist, however, also notes a trend where couples are consciously choosing to walk away from marriage after years together.
“Couples aren’t simply ‘drifting apart’ over time anymore. One or both people in the marriage are making an overt choice to change course for the time they have left. And recognising that life is short and precious… they afford themselves the space to gain, or regain, happiness and fulfillment,” he writes in CNN.
To deliberately alter the course of your established life in a bid to fulfil leftover aspirations before time runs out is a decision that would largely still emanate a radical tenor, even in the most progressive societies. But from the vantage point that holds individuality above all, why not? Why not close an old chapter to start a new book altogether? Why not?
Societies that still hold tradition sacred will take more time to normalise divorce, and then another eon more perhaps to normalise grey divorce. But vibrations in the farthest corners of the world indicate that the tide is turning and change may well be on its way.
Views expressed are the author’s own.