Lifelong marriage is going out of style for young people—and their grandparents

Let’s try this again.
Let’s try this again.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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The marriage market is picking up, but not for young newlyweds.

According to data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, people over age 65 are getting married more, and divorcing more, as life expectancy lengthens and other social changes alter the traditional patterns of long-term monogamy.

Marriage has been on the decline in the US and in the UK for some time, but older people are both tying the knot and splitting up at record rates. The number of marriages between couples over 65 has risen 46% over the last decade, the ONS said. The marriage rate for older couples—the number of marriages per thousand people—has risen as well, though less dramatically because there are more older people overall. Over 90% of those weren’t first marriages. And the uptick has been bigger among men because of older men’s proclivity for marrying younger women:

Divorce rates among people over age 65 were also high relative to other age groups. While overall divorce rates in England and Wales declined by 28% over the past decade, the divorce rate for those over age 65 remained constant. And the total number of divorces increased, as the size of the over-65 population grew.

Life spans have risen substantially in recent years—by roughly two years for men and women between 2004 and 2017. The gap in life expectancy between men and women also narrowed by just under a year over that period, as men’s life expectancy improved.

Technology is another factor spurring new relationships. In the age of online dating, the ONS speculated that older people might have an easy time now finding new partners on the internet. Internet dating among those aged 55 to 64 doubled between 2013 and 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, though dating among people over 65 remained steady over that period. Meanwhile, the number of dating sites dedicated to older people has mushroomed (paywall) in recent years.

Another possible driver for the uptick in marriage and divorce: UK rules on inheritance tax changed in 2007, giving a slight incentive to older couples to be married, the ONS said. It can take more than romance to bring couples together.