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Marriage and divorce on the rise at 65 and over

'Baby boomers, silver surfers and economic drivers' may lie behind the increases

The number of brides and grooms aged 65 and over went up by 46% in a decade, from 7,468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014, the most recent ONS marriage data have shown. This is against the backdrop of an ageing population, with the number of people aged 65 and over up by 20% in the same period.

The marriage rates for those aged 65 and over – the number of people getting married as a proportion of the single, divorced or widowed population – showed an increase for both sexes since 2009.

Whilst divorce in England and Wales is in decline – the most recent 10 years of data show a 28% fall in the number of divorces between 2005 and 2015 – older people are bucking the trend. In the same period, the number of men divorcing aged 65 and over went up by 23% and the number of women of the same age divorcing increased by 38%.

Taking account of the large rise in the number of people in this age group in the same period – and the larger number of them who are married – the number of men and women divorcing as a proportion of the married population shows that the divorce rate has actually remained broadly consistent over the past decade.

The ONS says that the increase in older people ending and forming new relationships is likely to be because they are living longer. In 2004, an average 65-year-old man could expect to live for a further 17 years and a woman for a further 20 years. Continuing a long-term trend, in 2017, this has increased to 19 years for a man and almost 22 years for a woman. The gap between male and female life expectancy is also narrowing.

Jo Edwards, partner and head of family at London firm Forsters LLP, commented:

"The statistics published today, showing a huge increase in the number of silver splicers and silver splitters, are fascinating and inevitably there will be speculation as to what lies behind them.  An obvious viewpoint is that people are keen to divorce and remarry post-65, or indeed marry for the first time, because life expectancy is rising and there is a 'life is too short' mentality.  The shift of the 'baby boomer' generation into the over 65 age range was always likely to lead to a marked change in social norms, due not only to the larger number of those falling into the age range, therefore skewing the figures to create a 'spike', but also in terms of their generational expectations. This is a generation which prioritises its happiness and wellbeing.

It has also been speculated that the phenomenon of the 'silver surfer', older people who access the internet with confidence, may be boosting these statistics.  It has been written that over 65s are using online dating sites with ever increasing frequency (and, it seems, success).

Finally, there are economic drivers at play.  By later in life, many are economically comfortable and feel better able to deal with the financial ramifications that a divorce brings.  Likewise, many are working way beyond 65; this may mean both an increase in economic confidence but also a continued life outside the marital home and, sometimes, forming a new relationship with someone at or connected with work.  And for those contemplating marriage or remarriage over the age of 65, the increased recognition of and weight placed upon pre-nups over the past 7 years since Radmacher v Granatino has meant that they can marry whilst preserving often significant wealth they are bringing to a marriage later in life.  In the recent past I have had several people in their 70s or 80s contact me, sometimes at their children's behest, to seek to protect assets in this way on divorce; in the past they may have chosen not to marry in case they lost carefully built up wealth to late in life divorce."

For the full statistics, click here.

18/7/17 (supplemented 18/7/17)