Why over-60s rising divorce rate is important to you

Divorce rates among the over-60s are on the rise, but after the pain of separation often comes major lifestyle changes, offering marketers new targeting opportunities among these ‘silver separators’.

  • See why silver separation is on the rise, here
  • Find out about the £2.3bn cosmetic surgery market, here


The social stigma associated with separation and divorce is disappearing, and a new target group is emerging for marketers: the ‘silver separators’. These are people over 60 who are choosing to unhitch from each other and reinvent themselves, using the services of not only lawyers, but dating sites, travel agents and even plastic surgeons.

This group is the only demographic in the UK where separation is on the increase.

The latest ONS figures show that more than 13,700 over-60s were granted a divorce in 2009, up 4% in two years. This contrasts with all age groups, where rates fell 11%.

And with January being the most common month for partners to split, marketers from a variety of industries are preparing to cash in on these separations.

The over-60s are often cash-rich, already collecting a pension and looking for new experiences. The over-65s added £40bn to the UK economy in 2010, according to charity WVRS. And the differences between how brands need to reach the two sexes becomes more marked as people get older, according to a study by the Mail Media Centre earlier this year, which looked at how people change after divorce.

It shows that women are more likely to have cosmetic surgery, redecorate their homes and take an interest in alternative medicine, while men exercise more and are 36% more likely than the national average to be classed as a heavy consumer of spirits.


The first stop for many couples on the verge of separation is the divorce lawyer. At London law firm Schillings, associate Davina Hay specialises in matrimonial law. She represents high profile and high net worth individuals and says many of the older generation choose to go their separate ways after their children have moved on (see Why silver separation is on the rise, below).

“Whatever the reason for divorce, many newly separated people in their 50s and 60s have got money to spend and so are looking for ways to spend it,” says Hay. “It might be the plastic surgeon, an exotic holiday or a move to a warmer climate.”

This is something that resonates with Tom Fotheringham, founder and chief executive of website Cruise Compare, which lists travel agent packages as well as brands such as P&O, Princess Cruises, Cunard and Royal Caribbean.

Fotheringham offers an extreme example. “I know one woman who was married to someone who worked in the oil industry and got a very good pay-off from her divorce. She spent eight months a year on a cruise ship in a cabin that cost £24,000 a week. She just went where the ship went,” he says.

Even for less wealthy individuals, divorced passengers will be important for travel marketers in 2012. The cruise industry alone is forecast to have risen 6.6% in 2011 to 16 million guests from the US alone, according to trade body FCCA.

Fotheringham says older single people will use the internet to meet people and to start dating online before taking a cruise, and that they are also likely to use social media.


“Our Facebook page has more than 45,000 fans. The idea with the Facebook page is that we have more generic branding so people around the world are more likely to join the community.”

And Fotheringham is using the brand’s Facebook page to target older consumers. “We use their profiles to tap into people’s buying behaviour. We send traffic to Cruise Compare and have 500 visitors a day. Then we take the bookings to our third-party agents.”

He says the site is seeing lots of single people intending to go on a cruise chatting on forums and then meeting up before their holiday.

Travel operators are also heavily marketing spas, treatments and cosmetic enhancements on cruises to meet this demographic’s needs. “A lot of cruise ships have beauty spas, teeth whitening and other services,” he says.

The silver separators are also using reviews site Cruise Critic before they travel. Through the forum, they ‘meet’ people who they might want to share cabins with, which is a more affordable way of taking a cruise holiday.

Travel One, which hosts singles holidays to Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt, is also experiencing more demand from the older age groups, according to director John Phillips. “The majority of our guests are in their 40s, 50s or 60s,” he says.


Word of mouth and repeat business are the most common channels that Travel One uses to reach its audience, but it also uses Google search and print ads in national newspapers and magazines.

Currently, a roughly equal split of men and women aged between 40 and 65 book holidays with Travel One.

Schilling’s Hay says that many legal firms are marketing prenuptial agreements to this consumer group. She says that having been divorced once, this group is keen to avoid this occurring again.

“Prenuptial agreements are very important to men. After getting hurt the first time, those that do choose to remarry are often more wary.

“If the second wife does decide to separate or divorce, then at least the husband will know what he has to part with rather than go through the lottery of litigation,” she explains.

And following a legal action last year that involved the divorce of a wealthy heiress from a banker where the prenuptial agreement was challenged, prenups now have more force in the UK, whereas previously family courts would focus on dividing assets equally.

“Since the Radmacher and Granatino case in 2010, prenuptial agreements are very much in vogue. Men in particular are quite happy to use them because it provides a good deal of transparency and security if the marriage subsequently fails,” Hay adds.


Any couple can set up a prenuptial but it is usually done by those that are wealthy because they have more to lose. As more couples marry again later in life, there are likely to be more valuable assets worth protecting if the relationship ends.

Hay points out that for the current group of over-60s, there are some financial compensations to divorcing later in life. Very often a mortgage will be paid off and there are no longer children to support, she says.

This leaves the newly divorced person with far more disposable income than previously in life. This trend – known as a clean break – is more prevalent among women, many of whom “feel like a change”, according to Hay.

While women, who Hay says are more likely to initiate divorce later in life, may feel more adventurous and willing to try new brands, men are more likely to go the other way.

This is because many men may take on or start a second family after a divorce – a phenomenon known as ‘start-over dad’, which often sees them looking back to the familiar brands they used when they had children the first time around.

Divorce is undoubtedly a traumatic personal event for many people. But the changing lifestyles of consumers require marketers to offer them new products, experiences and services. While brands can do little about growing divorce rates in the over-60s, they must ensure they recognise and serve this emerging group.

State of independence: Al and Tipper Gore are typical silver separators. They announced their divorce this June, after 40 years of marriage
State of independence: Al and Tipper Gore are typical silver separators. They announced their divorce this June, after 40 years of marriage

Why silver separation is on the rise

The new year is the busiest time of the year for divorce lawyers, with 4 January widely considered ‘national divorce day’ after the tension and pressure of Christmas has taken its toll on many couples and they decide to part from each other.

“It is often the case that after the children have flown the nest, two individuals sit on the sofa, look at each other and suddenly realise that they have very little in common. Very little of the glue that used to bind them together is left,” says Davina Hay, an associate at law firm Schillings, who specialises in matrimonial law.

It tends to be women over 50, rather than men, who instigate divorce, she says. “That’s largely because sociologically, women tend to find a sort of emancipation as they get older whereas men tend to find it in their 30s or 40s.

“By the time men reach 50 or 60 they want to know what they’ve got and want the stability of it, whereas women want the reverse,” she says.

The oldest client Hay has acted for is a 79-year-old man who was in commercial real estate, with quite substantial wealth. “It was his wife who wanted to separate. She was eight or nine years younger and they had been married for nearly 40 years. It’s very sad when a client comes to see you and they talk about getting a divorce,” says Hay.


“It’s quite remarkable when you’re sat talking to someone who has come to see you and actually been married for multiple decades and is far into life, seeking something as dramatic as getting a divorce, and everything that will flow from it at that age,” she adds.

Most people are inclined to think ‘why not just carry on if you’ve managed to for so long’ but others choose not to, says Hay.

Retirement and pension rights are very important when a couple parts because a pension can be a large matrimonial asset of a long marriage, especially if the husband has been the breadwinner.

A wife in her 60s may not have worked since earlier in her life and may find the change in circumstances difficult – with some cruise brands encouraging people to share cabins to save money, for example (see main text).


Cosmetic surgery

There has been a considerable rise in cosmetic surgery procedures in the past 12 months, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS).

According to BAAPS, 38,274 procedures were carried out on men and women in 2010, compared with 36,482 in 2009 – a rise of 5%. The figures also show that women accounted for 34,413 procedures.

Women underwent 90% of all cosmetic procedures in 2010, with the most popular ops being on visible areas of the body, such as facelifts, breast enhancements and rhinoplasty, better known as a nose job.

The cosmetic surgery area is one marketing itself heavily at silver separators. The value of the market has grown by 17% between 2008 and 2010, reaching an estimated worth of £2.3bn, according to Mintel.

Kevin Hancock, a cosmetic surgeon at Spire Murrayfield Hospital and a member of the BAAPS council, says that aesthetic brands have noticed surgery among older people is on the rise. “I think you’d accept that the older generation is relatively affluent now and so they are more likely to have things done.

“People are more aware of what’s available so it is becoming more acceptable to have cosmetic procedures and the older generation do tend to have disposable incomes,” says Hancock.

Surgery on older people usually involves enhancements made to the face, he adds.

“So women would be looking for facelift and eye lift surgery, while eyelid surgery is common for older men. They tend not to be looking for body procedures, such as breast enhancement or liposuction.”

Marketing to the older generation involves mainstream channels such as magazine and television ads. “I don’t know how influenced that generation is by internet marketing,” Hancock adds.

Cosmetic surgeons have also been snapping up marketers from other lifestyle-oriented industries to bolster their operations. Cosmetic surgery group Transform appointed Steven Taylor as marketing director last year; Taylor joined from hotel group Premier Resorts. Meanwhile, even discount offer service Groupon offers cosmetic enhancements, from teeth whitening to rhinoplasty.

With cosmetic surgery now seen by consumers as acceptable lifestyle choices, the silver separators will no doubt see more persuasive marketing from this sector in 2012.

Divorce data

  • 6.3% – The percentage of couples who divorced in 2011, up from 5.5% in 2005.
  • 13,700 – The number of people aged over 60 who divorced in 2009.
  • 75,800 – The number of women who filed for divorce in 2009, compared with 38,000 men.
  • 11,144 – The number of people who got married in 2009 who had been divorced previously.
  • 6.9% – The percentage of people who were widowed in 2010.


Creative viewpoint

By Seb Joseph


In some ways, silver separators represent the ideal consumer. They have money, consume lots of media and due to their newly-acquired outlook on life, remain optimistic. If targeted in the right way, this group can play a valuable role in these times of austerity.

Understanding that this audience has its own needs and desires separate from the wider and relatively new ‘grey market’ is no easy task.

Whereas baby boomers may not be want to be reminded that they are getting older in what is increasingly a youth-obsessed world, silver separators will be far more receptive to creative strategies that celebrate their age.

Last year, The Family Planning Association (FPA), the sexual health charity, launched what it claimed was the first ever awareness campaign aimed specifically at over-50s divorcees.

Called The Middle-Age Spread, it used fashion advertisements from the Seventies that were turned into posters with a photograph of a condom and the slogan ‘Remember wearing this? Then remember to wear this!’

Older people who have recently become single are using dating websites and holidays to find new partners. Marketers need to keep in mind this shift in psychology of this audience, who are less brand loyal than previously believed and increasingly tech-savvy.

Indeed, social media and online video are set to play a crucial role in tuning into an older age group, which provides a more discreet way of targeting the older consumer now that they are moving towards these new media.

The key is not to focus on age but to focus on the silver separators’ desire to stay younger. If brands can tap into that, then they may well be able to turn silver to gold.



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