Why Are So Many Baby Boomers Divorced?

Senior Moments - Divorce
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Love and marriage don't go together as often as they used to. In a recent study, 39 percent of Americans said marriage is becoming obsolete. That's up from 28 percent who thought so back in the 1970s. That's about the time the oldest of the baby boomers - now in their sixties - were getting hitched. But many wound up splitting.

CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger continues a series of reports by CBS News and USA TODAY called "Senior Moment," exploring the aging of an iconic generation and the impact on the nation.

Wendy Sales was married for 25 years, and divorced for seven years. Looking at a picture of her wedding day, she said, "I actually cried when I looked at the picture because it reminded me of a time when I was really happy and hopeful about the future and thinking that this was going to be my husband forever."

Like millions of other baby boomers Sales grew up in the era of "Leave It To Beaver," but real life ended up more like "Kramer Vs. Kramer."

By 1979, when that film came out, the divorce rate had hit its all time high - 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people.

"My wife at the time used to say I was happy being miserable," said Scott Lorber. Lorber was married for five years, and divorced for 15 years. "I thought I was happy on the outside maybe I wasn't."

CBS News/USA Today Series: Senior Moment
USA Today: Senior Moment Page

Now 35 percent of all baby boomers have been divorced and that generation makes up the majority of all divorced people in America. So what happened?

"Life happened," Sales said. "Um, we were busy."

"There's no question that a lot of women woke up during the women's movement and said, 'Who needs this,'" Nora Ephron said.

Ephron has written extensively about divorce, most notably her own. She's just written a new book about her life and edits a blog on the Huffington Postall about the D-word that once dared not speak its name.

"When I was growing up, the word divorce was practically whispered," Ephron said.

The traditional wife and mother image of June Cleaver went out with black-and-white TV. During the sexual revolution women who had said "I do" claimed their right to say, "I'd rather not.

"I was engaged at 20 married at 21 and I had my children very soon after that," said Marianne. She was married for 30 years, and divorced for seven. "Our generation was the first, at least women, that were college grads and career options were open to us that the generation previous to us didn't."

"I think marriage is much harder than it looks," Ephron said.

That may be why the children and grandchildren of baby boomers are waiting longer to marry - about 4 years longer. Since 1979 the average age of grooms has risen from 24 to 28, and from 22 to 26 for brides. Nobody wants to inherit what turned out to be a troubling trait of an older generation.

"Nobody gets married and wants it fail, and anyway you look at it a divorce is the loss of a dream," Sales said.

More Coverage from USA Today:
USA TODAY: It's Not Too Late for Boomers to Get in Shape
USA TODAY: Working Past 65: Boomers Face Job Challenges in Senior Years
USA TODAY: Long-Term Care Insurance Worries Baby Boomers
USA TODAY: Other Generations Grow Weary of Baby Boomers
USA TODAY: Senior Boom Begins Amid Economic Bust

  • Richard Schlesinger
    Richard Schlesinger

    Correspondent, "48 Hours," "CBS Evening News"