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Divorce rates skyrocketing among older couples

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SALT LAKE CITY — Marriage in America is on much shakier ground than ever before, a new study suggests, because the experts have been looking at the wrong data. Perhaps more surprising is it's not the youngest couples who have the most marital instability.

“There is reason to be concerned marriage is not strong in our country and needs shoring up,” said Bill Duncan, director of the Center for Family and Society at the Sutherland Institute.

Divorce rates are higher than previously imagined among older people. Baby boomers who are on their second or third marriages are divorcing at a high rate, says a study done by the Minnesota Population Center.

“The Baby Boom generation was responsible for the extraordinary rise in marital instability after 1970. They are now middle-aged, but their pattern of high marital instability continues,” the study said. “Divorce at age 40 or higher is much more common than it was, and divorce of persons in their teens and early twenties has dropped dramatically.”

Study author Steve Ruggles, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota and the director of the Minnesota Population Center, gave TIME.com the specifics of the data.

“There has been a threefold increase in the divorce rate of people aged between 60 and 65 since 1990,” Ruggles told TIME.com. “And for those older than 65, the increase is fivefold.”

The second and third marriages are more likely to be unstable, Ruggles added, another reason why some of those marriages are ending in divorce.

While divorce rates are lower among younger people, a closer look at the numbers shows they aren't getting married in the first place, but are instead living together.

“So they are still breaking up, in and out of relationships, increasing the risk of single parenthood and other things,” Duncan said.

Those who do have successful marriages appear to be better off financially and have higher levels of education.

Jonathan Sherman, a marriage and family therapist, said having a strong marriage requires effort, regardless of your stage in life.

"The good thing in my field is that we are no longer guessing. It's how do we get people to do the work early and ahead of time so we can take the commitment they made on their marriage day and translate it into a long-term, stable marriage," Sherman said.

Sherman believes there is reason for optimism in relation to these statistics.

"Even though there are daunting divorce statistics, there are fantastic statistics on how we can turn things around," Sherman said. "Two thirds of divorces can be prevented with just education and intervention. There is great cause for hope."

Contributing: Tracie Snowder and Sam Penrod

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