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ONS reports leap in older marriages

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March 28, 2024

There has been a surge in the number of people in their late 60s getting married, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported.

The number of men aged 65-69 getting married increased by 25 per cent in the year to 2012- a greater percentage increase than for any other age group. Marriage amongst women in the same age group increased by 21 per cent, according to newly published statistics.

Nevertheless, the majority of those who do marry are still in their 30s. The average age at which most people tie the knot, at least for the first time, is still 36.5 for men  and 34 for women, entirely in line with the traditional tendency for older men to marry younger women. However, these figures illuminate another a significant social trend – people are continuing to marry later. Wind the clock back to 1972 and you find that the average age of marriage then was just 24 for men and a very young 22 for women.

The overall number of marriages increased in the 12 months to 2012 – by a modest but still noteworthy 5.3 per cent. Religious ceremonies, meanwhile, seem to be falling ever further out of favour – 70 per cent of marriages in 2012 took place in a registry office, a remarkable 66 per cent increase since 2002.

We have just begun to emerge from a ferocious recession of course, and an unavoidable fact of marriage is that it costs money – while a lavish event complete with church ceremony costs even more. I suspect many couples who wished to forsake all others over the last few years decided they simply could not afford a full white wedding and so opted for a more cost-efficient registry office event instead.

As I noted in the Daily Express:

“The cost of living means that couples need to save for longer and therefore as the country emerges out of recession I would expect the total number of marriages will increase again next year.”

But the bottom line is that “the institution of marriage is steady as a rock”.

The jump in marriages amongst older people is intriguing. Nowadays people have higher expectations of their ‘golden years’ and lead more active lives than the retired of earlier generations. Why shouldn’t older folk form new relationships and get married again if they wish? But marriage in one’s later years brings its own particular risks. If the new relationship ends, the financial needs of the less wealthy partner will be all the greater because they are likely to be close to or past retirement age and  they will have little or no earning capacity. Consequently, significant chunks of the wealthier partner’s assets could feature in the divorce settlement, with any children from earlier marriages losing out.

My advice to older couples thinking of marriage would be ‘think carefully’. Your assets, including your pensions and property, will be relatively fixed and therefore count for much more. Unfortunately prenuptial agreements still have no fixed status in English law but you may still wish to give one some serious thought before making the leap.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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