Johannesburg – The announcement by Bill and Melinda Gates that they are divorcing aft er 27 years has sent seismic waves around the globe.
Undoubtedly, it was the impact the divorce would have on the many charities that benefit from the couple’s philanthropic work that was the main cause for concern.
But this concern was quickly allayed by the multibillionaire couple indicating that they will continue to work together to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate.
The divorce, it also seems, is amicable, what with reports that the Gates have already agreed on how they are going to split their assets.
With these concerns out of the way, there are now questions about what causes a couple to break up after 27 years of marriage; after raising three adult children and making a difference in the world – all those things that tend to keep serotonin levels up?
Unfortunately, grey divorces or silver splitters or diamond divorcees, as they are called, are on the increase in the US and South Africa.
The number of people who are over 50 and in long-lasting marriages and decide to split is on the increase, even as general divorce rates are on the decrease.
According to the study The Gray Revolution: Rising Divorce Rates among Middle-Aged and Older Adults 1990-2010 by Susan L Brown and I-Fen Lin, 20 years ago, one in 10 people in the US who was divorced was over 50. Today, it is one in four, a markedly high increase.
Locally, the release of the latest marriages and divorces statistics by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and the announcement by outspoken academic, researcher and gender activist Nomboniso Gasa and her husband of 28 years, renowned academic and writer Raymond Suttner on Twitter that they are splitting, has shone the spotlight on silver splitters. In a joint statement posted on Twitter, Gasa, 54 and Suttner, 75, announced last month that:
“After 28 years, we have decided to divorce …” According to the latest data from Stats SA, divorces have decreased by 6.2% to 23 710 in 2019. But similar to the US; there has been an increase in the number of people who are divorcing after 50. The latest report shows that 3 252 divorces were recorded among people who are between 50-54. In 2016, the figure was just 2 360. Interestingly, the divorce rate among the 70-74 age group has also increased by more than 100%. In 2019, 227 divorces were concluded in this age bracket compared with just 108 in 2016. What then causes couples to split in the last years of their lives? In their divorce announcement, the Gates said they believe they “can no longer grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives”.
Gasa and Suttner simply said “they decided to divorce”, not that they owe the public any explanation.
According to Equitable Mediation, which provides divorce mediation services, the top reason for divorce among people in their advanced years is growing apart.
Cracks start to show when the children are grown or one partner is retired.
Age is another major factor contributing to divorce.
The larger the gap, as in the Gates (nine year), and Gasa and Suttner (21 years), the harder it is for the couple.
According to the mediators, it is even more difficult if one partner is constantly complaining about aches and pains, deteriorating eyesight and back pains.
This is a time when the young at heart will look for someone younger in their next relationship so that they do not have to be constantly reminded of their age.
Money and spending habits are also a major factor in silver divorces, so is sex. Some couples divorce to undo past regrets, that is, those who got married to “the nice girl”, “childhood sweetheart”, or the mother of the child, tend to want to correct the mistakes they think they did.
The longer life expectancy also motivates many to leave unhappy marriages for satisfying ones.
Also, a partner who is active and one that just sits around on the couch in old age can find themselves drifting apart, which could result in the breakdown of the marriage.