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Divorce: Trends and Consequences

Divorcing In Middle And Late Life, The Career Divorced, Effects Of Divorce In The Family System

Divorce is the voluntary, legal termination of a marriage. To understand how divorce influences the aging experience, a life-course perspective is particularly informative. A major tenet of this approach is that history shapes an individual's life experience. In terms of divorce, this is certainly true, as documented by the variations in divorce statistics by historic period and birth cohort. The life-course perspective also contends that the timing of life transitions influences how they are experienced. Thus, divorcing in early adulthood is likely to constitute a very different experience than divorcing later in life. Young and old adults face different developmental challenges, and they differ in the types and amount of resources they possess for dealing with life changes like divorce.

Even when divorce occurs in early adulthood, it can affect one's later years. This may occur as a result of individuals divorcing in their twenties, thirties, or forties, and then remaining divorced throughout their lives. Timothy Brubaker has labeled these persons the career divorced, and, as a result of declining remarriage rates, their numbers are growing (see Uhlenberg, Cooney, & Boyd). However, even for those who remarry, divorce may have a cumulative and lasting impact, as some consequences of divorce are not easily reversed. The life-course perspective emphasizes how events such as divorce differ in their impact depending on the life experiences that preceded them. Finally, this perspective considers individuals within their family and social systems. Because of family interdependencies, individuals may be affected by events such as divorce even when they occur to someone other than themselves. These principles of the life-course perspective shed light on the interplay of aging and divorce.

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