Everyone knows the line. If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy or long-running television show there’s a very high chance it will have made an appearance at some point. It’s said at almost every real wedding too. The blissful couple promise to love and cherish each other “until death do us part”.
It’s a lovely sentiment and I’m sure that in the vast majority of cases the couples saying it really mean it. Why wouldn’t they? This is the person they love the most. Of course they want to be with them forever.
Except, all too often, people change their mind about this promise. They fall out of love. They drift apart. They can be unfaithful or abusive. There are a myriad of ways that a once happy marriage can break down. That’s why divorce exists.
So does the phrase “until death do us part” still hold any real meaning or should we rethink the idea altogether?
Sarah Harper of Oxford University believes we should re-examine the institution of marriage. Speaking at the Hay Festival over the weekend, she said that increased life expectancy makes the idea of a marriage “for life” all the more difficult to achieve.
Harper is a professor of gerontology (the study of old age) who founded the historic university’s Institute of Ageing in 1998. She told an audience at the festival that a British baby born this year is expected to live until they are 104 years old. This apparently is only going to increase as time goes on. At the current rate “we are gaining two and a half years of life expectancy per decade, or 15 minutes an hour” she explained.
This will have a significant impact on the way our society functions Harper said, adding:
“We take it for granted that we will pass power, assets and status down the generations at regular timings. What happens when you don’t inherit from your grandparents until you’re in your eighties?”
As more and more people live past their 100th birthday, they will have to ask themselves if they and their partner “want to be together for 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 years”.
She may have a point. The latest figures from the ONS showed that while the divorce rate is dropping overall – in 2014 there was a 3.1 per cent fall from the previous year – there is one age group where the number is on the rise: older people. Increasingly people are deciding to bring their marriage to an end later in life. This phenomenon has been given the alliterative name “silver splitters”.
So while most people go into marriage with the intention of it lasting forever, life often has other plans. Harper predicts that by the end of this century the UK will have 1.5 million people older than 100 years old. At the moment, there are just 14,500. With such a dramatic increase is it realistic to expect people who marry in their 20s and 30s to still be together for such a long time?
It may not be the most romantic notion but perhaps “until death do us part” really does need an update for the world we are heading towards.