Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

Eric Beauchesne Southam News Monday December 20, 1999

OTTAWA - Baby boomers, particularly women, may end up paying a high price
in old age for their soaring divorce rates, a cost that taxpayers would
likely share.

A collection of essays by Statistics Canada and university researchers on
the "consequences of population ageing" warns of the impact for divorced
elderly boomers and for their adult children.

"A number of events could interfere with the effectiveness of the
informal support network of the elderly in the future, the most
significant of which is probably divorce," it says. "A number of surveys
tend to show that the helping relationships and exchanges among divorced
parents and children are not as strong as others, mainly in the case of

However, it is divorced female boomers who are in danger of being the
major victims in old age, at least financially, and that could weigh
heavily on the cash-starved and strained social safety net.

Divorce may already be hurting elderly parents of divorced baby boomers.

"Divorced parents are inclined to give less, both financially and in
terms of other forms of support, to their adult children," said one of
the authors, Ingrid Connidis, director of the interdisciplinary group on
ageing at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. "In turn,
adult children who are divorced are inclined to give less to their
parents, and adult children whose parents are divorced are less inclined
to give to their divorced parents.

"In general, women suffer more financially than men do," Ms. Connidis
said in an interview. "It's a function of divorce, there's no question.

"But if you compare men who have divorced with men who have not divorced,
they also experience financial consequences," she said. "They have fewer
financial resources than their married male counterparts.

"Overall, however, it tends to be women who suffer more financially as a
consequence of divorce," she said.

Widowhood is currently the major reason unattached elderly women, who
have among the highest poverty rate of any group of Canadians at 42%, are
without a spouse and the financial support that offers.

That is changing. "Trends in divorce rates indicate that widowhood will
decline, and divorce will increase as the basis for being unattached in
old age," says the report, to be published in print and on the Internet
early next year.

"On the one hand, we can assume that the difference in life expectancy
between men and women will shrink, with the result that more couples will
be together in old and very old age," it notes. "On the other hand,
divorce, which is rising sharply in this generation, will deprive a
number of baby boomers of a spouse."

The divorce rate among baby boomers is sharply higher than among earlier
generations, Statistics Canada census data show.

The proportion of the population that was divorced at age 35 to 44 was
about 14% for boomers born between 1947 and 1961, dramatically greater
than the 10% for people born between 1937-46, 6% for those born from
1927-36 and a mere 1% for those born from 1917-26.

If anything, the divorce rates may greatly understate the level of family
breakups, says Leroy Stone, Statistics Canada's associate director
general of analytical studies.

"It could be that as you go deeper into the baby boom generation, you had
more and more people staying out of marriages and going into common law,
so that by the time they got to 35 to 44, there'd be less of them to be
divorced because they hadn't got married in the first place," he says.

"And the breakups in common law are way, way higher than in legal
marriages. I mean way higher and the impacts on children are really
sobering because they tend to happen when the children are really young
much more often than with the legal marriages."

That would suggest the bonds between common-law couples and between them
and their children would be even weaker after a split than among members
of a family divided by divorce.

And on balance, the researchers "predict that the number of individuals
living alone in old age will show new and sustained growth" once the
first of the baby boomers begins to reach age 65 in 2011.

But divorce, not to mention the breakup of common-law relationships, may
not only "lower the amount of support from children to their older
parents" but also the financial help that the parents are able or willing
to give their adult children.

Research has shown that "that older parents with intact marriages give
more support for their adult children than do those whose marriages have
been disrupted by widowhood or divorce."

"The problem that we have when we talk either about government policy or
the implications of trends," said Ms. Connidis, "is that we apply our
current understanding to a very different group of people.

"If we look at the parents of the baby boom, they've generally been
fairly well off," she said. "The situation for the baby boom could be
quite different."

A problem, however is that researchers don't know what the price to
individuals, and taxpayers, of divorce on the elderly might be because
most research has focused on the impact on children.

Bob Glossop, of the Vanier Institute of the Family, agrees with the
Statistics Canada report that more research is needed.

"We've never thought forward to the impact of divorce on an ageing
population," he noted.

And there are potential safety nets for divorced women. For example, more
have been in the labour force than in earlier generations, they tend to
be closer to their children after a divorce, and they appear more able to
form social support networks than men.

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