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Gen X vs. Gen Y: Till 'Blank' Do Us Part

Fifty years ago, divorce was considered an uncommon choice for a couple to make, even if the relationship between the spouses had fallen apart. We've come a long way since then, or have we?
09/07/2011 12:21pm ET | Updated November 7, 2011
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Fifty years ago, divorce was considered an uncommon choice for a couple to make, even if the relationship between the spouses had fallen apart. We've come a long way since then, or have we? You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue that marriages should never end in divorce, no matter what. While some consider divorce something painful and unpleasant that they would avoid if at all possible, a new generation sees divorce quite differently.

With divorce rates on the rise among some age groups in particular, it appears that different generations view divorce very differently. Generation X, those born to the Baby Boomers, are viewed as the children of the divorce boom of the 1970's. Gen X'ers are those who first experienced the reality of being raised while their parents fought out divorce battles when before, divorces were uncommon. They were the generation who grew up being raised in two households and learned with how to deal with step-parents and step-siblings, with very little guidance on how to live a life so different from the way their parents had been raised. As a result of these collective experiences, the views of Gen X'ers, when it comes to divorce, are surprisingly different from those of the next generation.

Those belonging to Generation Y, also referred to as Millennials, are considered to be generally narcissistic, immature and interested in short-term gratification. Whether the description of this generation is warranted or not, statistics reveal that Gen Y'ers are more likely to have shorter marriages that Gen X'ers and are more likely get divorced than the previous generation.

As they struggled through their parents divorces, Gen X'ers paved the way for future generations by learning how to cope with the process -- learning both what to do and what not to do when a family is dealing with divorce. This struggle has made Gen X'ers keenly aware of the difficulty of divorce when children are involved, and some would argue, more determined that their own children do not have those same struggles. Those belonging to Generation X appear to be more committed to making a marriage work before resorting to divorce. They view divorce as a pronouncement that they have failed to make a marriage work. The decision to divorce is one made as a last resort, after all other options have failed. The marriages of Gen X'ers, for this very reason, last longer because more time and effort is devoted to trying to make things work before the decision to divorce is made.

On the other hand, Generation Y has a more pragmatic approach to divorce. They've grown up at a time when divorce was a reality among their peers. They've seen an industry devoted to helping people cope with divorce, from counselors to self-help books to talk shows. This generation doesn't view divorce as a sign of failure, but simply a choice to be made when a marriage is no longer what they want it to be. Some would argue that the need of this generation for short-term gratification, and the unwillingness to deal with the work and dedication required to building a marriage has resulted in a higher rate of divorce for this group. In the workforce, this generation can be fairly characterized as being more interested in what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. This approach, however, is not likely to lead to success in marriage. Gen Y'ers are more likely than the prior generation to have prenuptial agreements citing the desire to protect what is "theirs" rather than contributing their assets to the marital pot. They are more likely to divorce within the first two years of marriage, claiming that the marriage was not what they expected it to be, without expressing any interest in counseling as a last ditch effort to save the marriage.

Some argue that Gen Y'ers learned from prior generations that postponing divorce doesn't mean that the marriage will work out, and that life after divorce doesn't have to be a struggle or a stigma. Others have argued that the immaturity of this generation has led to unrealistic expectations of marriage -- that this generation is not willing to put in the time or the effort to make marriage last. Whatever your point of view, it's clear that both generations have chosen to view divorce very differently and their perceptions of divorce have affected the choices they make.

Silvana D. Raso, partner and head of the family law practice at Schepisi & McLaughlin, P.A. where she counsels clients in all phases of matrimonial law.