They are marriages made closer to heaven. When Sir Tom Stoppard walked down the aisle in his French navy suit accessorised by a pink and grey striped tie the 76-year-old groom was met by Sabrina Guinness and became the latest statistic in the rise of the “silver splicers”.
The bride wore a full-length white dress and carried a posy of white roses and peonies, ballet slippers adorned her feet, at 59 years old she was every inch the archetypal blushing bride. The eros explored by the playwright in his classic play Arcadia lingered in the air, intangible and yet binding and oblivious to age.
Last week the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that more people in their late 60s were walking down the aisle, or just as likely to be strolling into the registry office, either way marriages were up. Across the whole of British society the number of marriages in 2012 had risen by 5 per cent to the highest total since 2004. The most surprising figures were to be found among those in their late 60s, with the number of men getting married standing at 3,520 – a rise of 25 per cent – while the number of women marrying in their late 60s stood at 1,990 – a rise of 21 per cent.
The breakdown, if you’ll excuse the term, of these new marriages shows that 10 per cent were single, 66 per cent were divorced and 24 per cent widowed. It was a pleasant surprise to read about the rising popularity of marriage among what one could still describe accurately as old age pensioners or OAPs, a term redolent of tartan trollies, tight perms and “scone shoes” and which no longer seems appropriate to this new generation of baby boomers who enjoy easy access to Botox, fitness classes and Viagra.
This new report on the “silver splicers” was a romantic antidote to the previous few years and the frequent reports on the rising phenomenon of the “silver splitters”. The same Office of National Statistics which last week showered us with confetti had, in 2013, thrown a cold bucket of water over the faint glowing embers of many a long-term marriage with the news that the number of people over 60 choosing to divorce had risen by 75 per cent in the past 20 years.
In 1991 divorces among individuals over 60 stood at 8,700 and had then leapt to 15,300 by 2011. While the divorce rate among the average man was dropping from 13.6 per 1,000 to 10.8 per 1,000, the rate for men over 60 was climbing from 1.6 per 1,000 to 2.3 per 1,000.
At the time, the ONS put the reason for rising divorces down to the fact that people live longer, for while a 60-year-old male in 1991 could look forward to another 21 years, this has now risen to 26 years. Longevity coupled with greater financial independence and an more relaxed attitude to divorce than when these couples first married combined to prompt at least one of them to call it a day.
Yet I think many of the same reasons that prompted the “silver splitters” to walk into the divorce courts are to be found in those “silver splicers” who walk up the aisle. They want a better, happier and more contented life. This is not to say that a new marriage is the answer for all, as research by Professor Sara Arbor, co-director of the Centre for Research and Ageing and Gender at the University of Surrey found that older people preferred to live apart than remarry, particularly widows. Perhaps this is just as well for, according to Professor Arbor, the odds of a woman over the age of 65 getting married are 10,000 to one, while for a man of the same age the odds are only 1,000 to one.
In many ways it is fitting that it is the “baby boomer” generation who are embracing marriage at such a late stage in life. After all, they were the first ones to experience the Pill and the sexual freedom it brought, they were the ones who saw the dissolution of the shame once attached to divorce and now they are the ones who are re-discovering the security and comfort of the marital bed after the hurly burly of the chaise longue.
Research may show that older men re-marry for the contentment and comfort of home while women seek the companionship that comes with the couple’s new social life. Women are also more conscious of securing a stronger financial future but I like to think at the heart of their decision lies not pragmatism and a cautious eye on a frail future but the sharp pierce of cupid’s arrow and that most crucial and timeless ingredient to any successful marriage: love.