Putting the ‘Age’ In Marriage 

Published on 28 February, 2018 | Abigail Lowther


“The past”, the poet L P Hartley once wrote, “is a foreign country; they do things differently there”.

Since he penned ‘The Go-Between’ in 1953, the world in which we live has undergone many significant changes, including in the home.

In that year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), roughly two-thirds of men and half of women in over the age of 16 ended up marrying. Now, that rate stands at only one-fifth for each gender.

It’s fair to say that in 1950’s Britain, there was a general expectation from family and society alike that couples would buy a home, settle down and raise children with the husband being the principal wage earner and the wife fulfilling the role of nest-builder.

Their life expectancy, however, was considerably shorter than it is now with men living five fewer years than women on average (https://visual.ons.gov.uk/how-has-life-expectancy-changed-over-time/).

Compare that to other recent UK statistics showing that both sexes can reasonably live well past the ‘three score years and 10’ of old (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/bulletins/nationallifetablesunitedkingdom/2014to2016).

I find myself dwelling on age and marital habits having read through the ONS’ package of statistics covering marriages in 2015 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2015#the-average-age-at-marriage-continued-to-rise).

It reveals that the number of marriages in England and Wales involving opposite sex couples fell by four per cent to 239,020 in only two years. Even more stark is the fact that marriage rates were lower for every age group except for men aged 65 and over and women 55 and over.

Therefore, I thought that the fabled ‘silver splicers’ pattern of the last few years deserved a bit more attention in an effort to comprehend why its participants apparently play such an important role in upholding the tradition of marriage.

I believe that longevity is one important factor. Greater life expectancy means that even those experiencing divorce or the death of a spouse in middle-age no longer seem to regard that as a barrier to further romantic relationships.

As I’ve been telling both the Daily Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5444707/Marriage-rates-straight-couples-fall-time-low.html) and the Daily Telegraph (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/28/re-marriage-rise-over-50s-buck-decline/), it’s noticeable that these age groups are also among those who have perhaps established careers and overcome the economic turbulence of the great recession which hit a decade ago and are able to exert and enjoy that financial muscle.

It’s not merely anecdote either. A 2016 study by Lloyds Bank found that middle-aged men were more likely to consider themselves wealthy than other age groups (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-3949258/Who-wealthy-UK-Middle-aged-married-men-salary-65k.html).

Wealth is certainly one source of confidence when it comes to entering into new relationships, as clients have been remarking to myself and my colleagues at Hall Brown Family Law.

It can also be, though, something of an inhibitor to marriage for individuals of a less advanced age and at a less well-off point in their lives.

In the early 1950s so familiar to L P Hartley, men and women were – on average – married before they turned 30. The latest ONS’ figures demonstrate how that age had increased by almost a decade by 2015.

Finances, I believe, play an important part in that shift.

Rising property prices mean that two incomes are often now needed to put together a deposit.

A survey by the Halifax published only a month or so ago noted that the average age of a first-time buyer had risen by two years in the last decade (https://static.halifax.co.uk/assets/pdf/mortgages/pdf/2018-01-27-number-of-ftb-highest-since-2007-HPI.pdf), something which naturally impacts on the age when men and women believe themselves financially able to marry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, committed couples are cohabiting while they save their cash before buying a home and marrying – another feature of the latest ONS’ material.

What that results in is something of a concertina effect, with couples having to compress the milestones of career, marriage, home and family into far less time than their own parents did.

All that can generate considerable domestic pressures, the sort of experiences now unfamiliar to many people in the older, ‘silver splicer’ age groups.

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