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Divorce increasing among over-60s

Date:9 AUG 2013

DivorceThe number of over-60s getting divorced in England and Wales has been increasing since the 1990s, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Divorce statistics show that the number of people getting divorced each year has been falling steadily since the mid-1990s. However, the number of people aged 60 and over divorcing has been rising during this period.

Experts partly attribute the rise to the increasing number of people aged 60 and over living in England and Wales.

Another reason for the rise is the increase in life expectancy. In 1991, men aged 60 in England and Wales were expected to live a further 21 years. This has increased to 26 years for men aged 60 in 20102. Similar rises have been observed for women. This means that even with a small chance of divorce during each year of marriage, marriages are now more likely to end in divorce and less likely to end in the death of one spouse than they were in 1991.

The loss of stigma associated with divorce is cited as another possible cause. The over 60s are the first generation of their age group who could have been teenagers when the Divorce Reform Act 1969 came into effect in 1971. There were 404,000 divorced people aged 60 and over in England and Wales in 1991, a figure which increased three-fold to 1.3 million by 2010.

The employment rate of women aged 16 to 64 rose from 53% in 1971 to 66% in 2012. As women have become more financially independent and have built up their own pensions, women are generally now more able to support themselves outside of marriage than in the past.

The figures also show that as couples get older, men are more likely to file for and be granted the divorce. Overall, 34% of those granted divorces in 2011 were men, whereas for those aged 60 and over, men were just as likely to be granted the divorce as women. A possible reason for this is women's lower earnings over a lifetime, and hence their lower pensions compared with those of men. This means that older women who divorce may have more to lose financially than their male counterparts.