The press has recently reported that the divorce rate amongst senior citizens in England and Wales almost doubled between 2001 and 2011.

The 2011 national census, published by the Office of National Statistics, reveals that 8.7% of people aged 65 and over were divorced. In the 2001 census, the corresponding figure was 5.2%. Indeed, the rate of growth in the number of divorced persons between 2001 and 2011 was considerably higher for the 65+ age group than for the population as a whole.

The number of older divorced people now divorced has risen to nearly 800,000.

This rise in the divorce rate has been mirrored by an increase in the number of older people who choose to cohabit rather than marry, with 2.8% of over 65s cohabiting in 2011 as compared to 1.6% a decade earlier.

The ONS suggests that the rise in the number of older couples who cohabit could also lead to an increase in the number of relationship break-ups, with cohabiting couples being three times more likely to split than those who are married.

The ONS’ comments echo those contained in a study carried out in 2014 by the International Longevity Centre-UK, which observed that divorce amongst older persons increased the prospects of loneliness and premature dependency, together with “negative health and money repercussions.”

Several factors which may have influenced the rise in the divorce rate have been identified. These include the ageing of the post-war “baby boomer” generation, amongst whom divorce rates climbed to historically unprecedented levels, increased life expectancy and a general improvement in the health of older people.

Other possible contributory factors include the greater financial independence of women and the rise in the average age at which people get married, which has risen from 28.5 for men and 26 for women in 1973 to 36.5 for men and 34 for women in 2012. Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation think-tank, believes that this latter statistic is a factor, commenting that: “Couples are marrying later and the age at which they divorce is going up as a result”. Mr. Benson added that although the numbers of divorced senior citizens is rising, “the idea that divorce is booming among older people is an illusion.”

It’s not just divorce rates that are rising amongst senior citizens, however. An increasing number of people are marrying later in life, with the number of unions between 65 to 69 year olds having risen by 25% for men and 21% for women between 2011 and 2012.

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