The rise of the ‘silver splitter’

It has been well documented that the number of people divorcing in later life has been increasing in recent years, when divorce rates overall have generally been falling. What is behind the rise of the so-called ‘silver splitter’?

Before answering that question, let’s have a look at the statistics. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that divorce amongst people aged 60 and over in England and Wales has been rising since the 1990s. For example, in 2011 nearly 9,500 men in this age group divorced, an increase of almost three-quarters compared with 20 years earlier. The trend for women is similar.

What is behind these statistics? Well, several reasons have been put forward.

The first reason is that life expectancy has increased – there are simply more people  aged 60 and over living in England and Wales. In 1991, men aged 60 in England and Wales were expected to live a further 21 years. This increased to 26 years for men aged 60 in 2010. Similar rises have been observed for women. Accordingly, 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.

Another possible reason is a loss of stigma in being divorced.  In 1991, there were 404,000 divorced people aged 60 and over in England and Wales. That figure increased three-fold to 1.3 million by 2010. As it becomes more common to be divorced, there are fewer stigmas attached.

A third possible reason is increasing participation in the labour market by women. The employment rate of women aged 16 to 64 rose from 53% in 1971 to 66% in 2012. This means that women have become more financially independent and are more likely to have built up their own pensions. Therefore in general women are now more able to support themselves outside of marriage than in the past.

Whatever the reasons for the increase, there can be particular problems getting divorced in later life, for example regarding pension arrangements. If you are aged over 60 and are involved in, or are contemplating, divorce then you should seek specialist advice. Family Law Café can help you find this – to contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 0208 768 2278.

Image: Hand in Hand by Garry Knight, licensed under CC BY 2.0.