Later life divorce and mental health

New research has found that life after divorce appears to be easier for childless older adults than for parents. 

More people aged 50 and over are divorcing, but little research has been done to look at the long-term impact on mental health of these 'grey divorces'. Studies focusing on the general population have shown that people experience temporary dips in mental health when marriages end, but mental wellbeing tends to return to pre-divorce levels over time. Previous research has suggested that transitioning to divorce has consequences for the physical and mental health of middle-aged and older men and that older people may find it more challenging to adjust to a post-divorce life.

Researchers from the University of Turin and Erasmus University Rotterdam used nine waves of Understanding Society data to look in detail at the affect of marital break-up on people aged 50 and over. They analysed data from over 900 older adults and looked at their mental health and reported depressive symptoms before and after their divorce. 

What did the researchers find? 

  • Older adults' depressive symptoms increase in the year before and at the point of seperation. After divorce, depressive symptoms decrease and return to their baseline levels. 
  • Those without children adjust quicker to post-divorce life than those who are parents. 
  • There was no evidence that adjustment after divorce is slower for women than for men. 
  • People who have been divorced before adjust at the same rate as those who are divorcing for the first time. 

The researchers said, "Our results indicate that, in line with the crisis model, older people's depressive symptoms increase around marital break-up and approximately return to previous levels in the years after the event. Individuals are able to adjust to divorce, also when it occurs at a later stage of the life course."

You can read the paper here.