Senior Sweethearts: Why Are Marriages And Divorces Soaring Among The Retired?

While it may not be the age for puppy love, it seems the number of retirees hearing wedding bells as a result of one last tango is on the rise. New data from the Office for National Statistics suggests an increase in the number of people over the age of 65 who are getting married - and, indeed, divorced. But in an age where more couples are choosing to remain unmarried than ever before, what’s causing the surge in retirees heading down the aisle?

Something Old, Something New

Let’s start with the more cheerful news. The number of brides and grooms aged 65 years old or over has increased by 46% in a decade, from 7,468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014. Not only this, but the marriage rate (defined as the number of people marrying, as a proportion of the unmarried population) has also increased for both men and women since 2009.

Within this data, several trends can be identified. For instance in 2014, 56% of grooms over the age of 65 married a woman under 65. Compare this to the reverse - just 22% of brides over the age of 65 married a man under 65. Furthermore, of these individuals, 92% were divorced or widowed and only 8% were marrying for the first time.

This means that the marriage rate continues to support the historic tendency for men to marry younger women, and rather dispels the myth of the prevalence of elderly women looking for love with younger men - colloquially known as ‘cougars’.

Tinder For The Fire

Marriage rate aside, what’s prompting the surge in retirees tying the knot? There are several factors to consider.

Firstly, the increase in life expectancy means that the retirement period is becoming progressively longer. With more time on their hands, the over 65s have more opportunities to start new relationships and the extra years means that there is now a real incentive to not spend a long retirement alone.

As we delve further into the technological revolution, a higher percentage of the elderly generation are becoming tech-savvy. With a whole host of dating apps and services at their fingertips, finding love is easier than it has ever been. Whereas finding a date used to involve an advert in the lonely hearts column of the local paper, it now simply requires a swipe to the right.

Finally, and perhaps more practically, the need for financial security and the eligibility for inheritance tax advantages has also prompted some retirees to make the jump and go to the chapel.

The Grey Divide

However, while mature marriages and septuagenarian ceremonies are on the rise, so too is the number of divorces - meaning that staying together ‘’till death do us part’ is looking increasingly unlikely. Indeed, contrary to the famous Joy Division song, it may not be love that tears us apart - but retirement instead.

The increase in the number of divorces has been substantial, leading to the rise of the ‘silver separator’. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of men divorcing aged 65 or over has increased by 23%. The percentage of women in the same situation is even greater, with a 38% increase. On the face of it, this is surprising news - especially considering that, nationally, the number of divorces fell by 28% across the same period.

While on the face of it these figures appear to be shocking, the story becomes quite different when we add a little context. It’s true that the number of divorces has risen - however the divorce rate for the same period has remained virtually unchanged. The rate for men over 65 has stayed the same at 1.3, and the rate for women over 65 has only slightly risen from 0.8 to 0.9.

So why is the divorce rate virtually unchanged in this age group? Quite simply, we have an ageing population (due in no small part to baby boomers and people living longer) so more people fall into this age range. Men can now expect to live to over 84 years old and women to almost 87. Also, as the figures illustrate, there are more marriages in the over 65s, so it falls to reason that the number of divorces will increase correspondingly.

The Divorce Trigger

Statistical analysis aside, it is true that there are now more silver separators. So, what’s causing the over 65s to divorce?

It is often claimed that couples may delay a divorce in the interests of their children, choosing to stay together until they have flown the nest. Women, particularly, are more likely now to be working, meaning they are more capable of supporting themselves outside of marriage. With increased life expectancy, couples may not see marriage as being for life and along with the inevitable change of lifestyle, retirement may prompt a new beginning.

Whatever the reason, silver separators are often in the privileged position of being financially secure, perhaps with no mortgage, valuable pensions and few financial commitments. But marriage generates obligations. The over 65s are a classic example of people who choose to enter into a prenuptial agreement to protect their pre-acquired wealth and the interests of any children from a previous relationship. Specialist legal advice should be taken if marriage is contemplated. Similarly if a divorce is on the cards, the savvy silver separator will take specialist legal advice to ensure the financial issues are properly resolved.

For better or for worse, the way we approach marriage and divorce as a society is changing. We’re no longer bound together in sickness or in health, and stories of love, marriage and remarriage are flourishing in the twilight years. But if each partner chooses to go their own way, ensuring they have the correct legal protection will help make the silver split as smooth and amicable as possible.

This article was first published in The Huffington Post.

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