Health And Happiness: The Impact Of Relationships
Published on 21 January, 2022 | Alison Fernandes
A quick flick through the pages of the national newspapers demonstrates that it can sometimes be all too tempting for commentators to resort to generalities.
However, if there’s one thing which being a family lawyer has taught me, it’s that few things are ever as simple or straightforward as they first appear.
Over decades, we have seen the traditional concept of home life in the UK undergo tremendous change and it’s a process which shows no sign of slowing down.
Of course, those shifts are not without consequence for the men and women involved in the relationships which contribute to the statistics that enable us to discern many fascinating patterns.
I was reminded of that when reading media coverage of a piece of research which highlighted that divorce and living alone appear to take a significant toll on the health of middle-aged men (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2019).
More intriguingly, the study of more than 4,800 people found that divorced or single women experienced none of the same signs of an increase of the chemicals linked to inflammation or associated with heart attacks, strokes, cancer or dementia as their male counterparts.
It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that we find men who are nearing retirement age – both single and having left failed marriages – forming relationships.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) illustrates that divorced males in that age group are more likely to be prepared to marry or cohabit than those who are younger.
When it comes to marriage, the number of individuals across all age groups who have already been through one divorce has fallen four per cent in the last decade.
If we look at men over 60, though, over the same period of time, we can see that there has actually been a rise of similar proportions (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2018).
Whilst the number of divorced men between 30 and 44 choosing to cohabit has dropped by 19 per cent in five years, those aged over 60 are eight per cent more likely to live with someone without marrying.
Furthermore, when we examine the trends among single men who have not married or been in a civil partnership but who then decide to cohabit in later life, the picture is considerably more pronounced.
In fact, figures released just last month by the ONS show that the number of men aged over 60 whose marital status has switched from singleton to cohabitee has more than doubled in five years – that’s 10 times the rate of single men aged between 30 and 44 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/populationestimatesbymaritalstatusandlivingarrangements/2020).
Yet here is where efforts to advance a simple, clean narrative begin to founder.
Many – but, I should add, certainly not all – of the patterns which we can trace in middle-aged men also apply to women.
Yes, cohabitation and marriage is on the increase. For many women, divorced or single, the decision to have a partner late in life can be just as much of a common objective as for men.
However, the ONS’ material suggests that the issue of whether to partner or not seems to be rather nuanced.
For instance, the number of men and women over 60 who choose to remain single is up by one-third in the last five years, possibly due to concerns about what impact a broken relationship may have on their finances.
That might particularly be true in the case of those who have previously been divorced.
Last August, the ONS noted that group had seen a larger drop in marriages (4 per cent) in the last 10 years than any other (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2018).
Even so, I have encountered many circumstances over the years of men forging new relationships before the administration of their divorce is even complete.
Women, on the other hand, seem to take more time to set up home with someone else, often because they can rely on a wider network of friends for support than male counterparts.
Whatever the reason for starting a relationship – be it on the ‘rebound’ from a break-up or after more consideration – it makes sense to do so with eyes wide open.
It is a painful fact that marriages or cohabitations do not always succeed and putting pre-nuptial or cohabitation agreements in place can avoid the prospect of upset being compounded by financial complications.
Those nearing retirement age may not only have assets, such as property and pensions, built up over the course of a working life but children too, whose interests and inheritances they wish to protect.