The Pew Research Center recently reported that Americans 50+ are divorcing at twice the rate they did 25 years ago. In 1990, only 5 out of every 1,000 Americans got divorced in a given year; by 2015 that number had risen to 10 out of every 1,000 — during a period when divorce rates among Americans aged 25-39 declinedby 21%.
It’s not clear why this is happening. Pew suggests that Boomers have always been “divorcers” who have simply carried a lifelong habit into their older years. And divorce begets even more divorce; remarriages are twice as likely as first marriages to end in divorce. The Boomer who divorces once will more easily divorce again.
But this trend is not all about couples who divorced when they were younger. Thirty-four percent of divorces for Americans over 50 are among couples who have been married for more than 30 years. Time, it turns out, does not heal all wounds.
Whatever the reason why Boomers have spawned this new wave of divorces, all of us who engage Boomers must learn how to respond to it, both in our marketing messages and the products and services we deliver.
Divorced Boomers Need New Kinds of Support
Several industries should quickly revise their approach to consumers who are more likely to be single than ever.
Twice the Divorces, Twice the Households
A divorce turns one household into two, so a rising divorce rate is a good thing for real estate. But it’s not enough to simply sit back and wait for more Boomers to buy from the existing supply of housing.
Newly single Boomers need new places to live and have less money to pay for it. They are also losing the companionship that comes with even an unhappy marriage. Look for ways to meet their need for less space at less cost that also deliver more sociability. Men, especially, suffer from the loss of social connections when their wives depart. And remember that what they are not looking for is traditional “retirement” living.
Developers should also look beyond housing to the kind of communal support that can be hard to find in your 50s and 60s and beyond. In Austin, Texas, a space appropriately called “The After Party” offers Boomers a way to connect with others for work, play ... and maybe even their next marriage.
Financial Services Need to Meet Boomers Where They Are
The financial service industry gets all kinds of Boomers wrong, but it reallygets recently divorced Boomers wrong. They are not happily preparing for retirement, and they don’t like messages that scold them for being unprepared. Financial service companies need to meet Boomers where they are, which is very likely to be single and more likely to be focused on short-term financial needs than in investment allocation in their 401(k). Think credit card debt, think housing payment, think life insurance, but don’t think “here’s you and your hubby smiling on the beach outside your second home.”
Eating for One: Dinner that Isn’t Depressing
Food companies like Healthy Choice have already revamped their product lines to offer choices that appeal to Boomers accustomed to eating well, but who lack passion for cooking when they are only cooking for one. More food retailers and manufacturers need to understand the needs and interests of aging single households. Boomers who created the food movement won’t settle for the stale offerings that may have satisfied their parents.
Zsa Zsa Gabor once said, “You never really know a man until you have divorced him.” By that standard, she knew seven men very well.
Since marketers can’t use Gabor’s method to understand Boomers better, they need to spend more time thinking about what the never-ending Boomer divorce rate means for them.