Opposite-sex marriages among over-65s increase by nearly half

Haroon Siddique
The rate rose faster for women over 65 marrying men – 56% – compared with a 41% increase for men marrying women. Photograph: Ojo/Getty Images

Marriage rates among the over-65s increased by almost a half between 2009 and 2014, bucking a general decline in the popularity of wedlock, official statistics have shown.

There was a 47% increase in the opposite-sex marriage rate (the number of people marrying per 1,000 unmarried persons) among over-65s during the five-year period at the same time as the marriage rate among the general population fell, according to the Office for National Statistics. Same-sex marriage only became possible in the UK from 29 March 2014.

In absolute terms, 7,005 men aged over 65 married a woman in 2014, up from 4,704 in 2009. The number of women in the oldest age group marrying a man also increased, from 2,509 to 3,932.

Dr Kate Davidson, senior visiting fellow at the University of Surrey and member of the British Society of Gerontology, has interviewed many old people about late life relationships.

She said: “Most of the marriages will be remarriages from divorces. It’s the greater availability of women who are willing to take a second chance. Men have always been willing to take a second chance. Women can be attracted by the ideas of security, emotional, financial and public. The women I talked to wanted someone to go out with as they didn’t feel they could go out on their own whereas the men want someone to come home to. It’s a win-win if you find the right person.”

But she said it was also about romance. “One of the things that came across in the interviews is how surprised the older men and women are that they feel like they do for someone else,” she said. What they were all saying to a person is ‘I never thought I could feel like this again’, ‘He/she is on my mind all the time’, I get butterflies every time I think about them’.”

Chart on UK marriages showing percentage change, 2009-2014

The marriage rate rose faster for women over 65 marrying men, with a 56% increase recorded between 2009 and 2014, compared with a 41% increase for men marrying women. Davidson said more men over 65 than women were getting married simply because they tended to marry younger women.

None of the age groups below 35 for men or women marrying the opposite sex showed an increase in the marriage rate between 2009 and 2014. The most significant rise outside the over-65s occurred in women aged 55 to 59, among whom marriage rates increased by a quarter.

The biggest percentage decrease over the same period came in the under-20 age group, with the marriage rate for men down a third and that for women down 27%.

Nicola Haines, from ONS, said: “A possible reason for the increase in marriage rates for the 65-and-over age group is due to increased life expectancy meaning that people are living longer. Consequently there is more opportunity for marriages to end in divorce and divorcees may then go on to remarry.”

There were 247,372 marriages between opposite-sex couples in 2014, up 2.7% from the previous year but still down on 2012, according to the figures published on Tuesday. The ONS suggested the small increase from the previous year might be partly explained by people who had postponed marriage to avoid getting wed during a year ending in the number 13, considered by some to be unlucky.

There were 4,850 marriages between same-sex couples in 2014, of which 44% (2,129) were between male couples and 56% (2,721) were between female couples. In 2013, there were 5,646 civil partnerships formed between same-sex couples, so the figures suggested gay couples who would previously have entered into civil partnerships were taking advantage of the change in law to get married.

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