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Growing divorce rates in old age could contribute to increasing isolation and a greater need for formal care, argues the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK).  In a new report, the think tank also warns of the potentially negative health and money repercussions of this trend.

In a new report “the rise and rise of the silver separator”, ILC-UK find:

  • From 1990 to 2012, the number of men and women experiencing divorce aged 60 or above has risen by over 85% and the rate continues to rise;
  • Based on current marriage and divorce rates by age, the total number of people over the age of 60 experiencing divorce will increase from 15,700 in 2012, to over 22,000 by 2037 – a 41% rise;
  • By 2037, almost 1 in every 10 people experiencing divorce will be aged over 60.

“The rise and rise of the silver separator”, has been published today as part of the ILC-UK Population Patterns Seminar Series, with the support of Partnership.

This new analysis suggests that while divorce rates amongst the total population has been declining, it has been increasing among older people. Since 1982, the divorce rate amongst men aged over 60 has risen by 0.6 per 1000 marriages while it has fallen by over 1 per 1000 marriages across the total male married population. Divorce rates for men in their middle to to late 50s has also risen over this time – increasing by more than 3 per 1000 marriages since 1982.

Population change as well as increasing divorce rates has contributed to the rise in divorce and in the report, ILC-UK set out the main driving factors in increasing divorce rates among older people:

  • With people marrying later in life, they are more exposed to the risk of divorce at older ages because their marriage is still relatively fresh.
  • Rising employment amongst women equates to more financial independence as women do not have to rely on their spouse to provide income through work.
  • Given that there is a small chance of divorce during each year of marriage, with people living longer, more marriages are likely to end in divorce and less likely to end in the death of a spouse.
  • Changes in social attitudes towards divorce

Speaking at the launch of the research, Ben Franklin of ILC-UK said:
“A growing number of older people experiencing divorce presents significant challenges at an individual and societal level. Increasing divorce rates and numbers might result in greater isolation, illness and a need for more formal care. Individuals don’t expect to divorce so when it happens, many find themselves in very difficult financial circumstances. At any age it is vital that individuals seek out relationship support. The rising number of divorces amongst the over 60s is something that policymakers, charities and services providers should factor-in when considering the potential vulnerabilities facing older people.”

Richard Willets, Director of Longevity, Partnership added
“While divorce at any age is likely to be a painful experience, the older you are the more likely it is to have a negative impact on your health, wealth and general well-being.  As separation is generally not something that people plan for, they are likely to need the support of their family and friends as well as potentially need more state assistance.  Divorce in later life is therefore something that needs to be more fully understood and factored into Government planning going forward.”

The report was debated at an event in the House of Lords on 18th November 2014.

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