THE BLOG

Love and Marriage in the Sixties

13/06/2014 11:56 BST | Updated 11/08/2014 10:59 BST

Mention the Sixties to many people and, regardless of whether they were alive or not, their minds conjure up images of England winning the World Cup, man landing on the moon, psychedelia and 'free love'.

It might come as some surprise, therefore, to learn that just as we imagine the masses heading to San Francisco with flowers in their hair or thronging to Carnaby Street, marriage was undergoing something of a renaissance.

With the exception of isolated years - partially inspired by the euphoria of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 and the transition from the 20th to the 21st century - the general trend for marriage in England and Wales has been one of decline ever since.

That is possibly why figures just released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have caused something of a stir.

The data provides something of a snapshot - the incidence and patterns within marriage in this country during 2012. However, the package of tables includes a number of startling elements.

Traditional marriage, it seemed to suggest, is back in fashion. An increase in marriage is nothing necessarily new. The numbers for 2011 showed an increase of 1.7% on the year before. In 2012, though, the rise was more than three times as great.

Dig a little deeper and another more eye-catching detail leaps from the page. Civil ceremonies might account for some 70% of all marriages during the 12 months in question but there was also a discernable increase in the number of couples choosing to have religious ceremonies - the biggest, in fact, in the last three decades.

It is important to draw breath and place the 2012 statistics in their proper context. They do reflect what took place in only one particular year, a period whose events might well have been infused by the air of romance following the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton the year before.

They also run counter to the seemingly unstoppable increase in cohabitation. Last October, the ONS produced more figures demonstrating how the number of unmarried couples in England and Wales had increased by 700,000 in the space of a decade. That, in turn, followed the news that cohabitation had all but doubled since 1996.

Even so, the freshest batch of ONS' data contained a bigger surprise. The proportion of men and women marrying in their late sixties was dramatically up - by 25% and 21% respectively.

There are individuals who would claim to have expected such a trend, given more dynamic marriages for those in middle-age, as evidenced by the continuing rise in so-called 'silver splits'.

I prefer to read something else into what the ONS has detected, something which adds a little symmetry to a phase of increased marriage just over four decades ago.

The latest surge in the number of couples exchanging vows is partially made up of spouses who came of age in the late 1960s and either married for the first time or remarried in 2012 after failed relationships.

In the past, people might have considered that they might be too old to remarry once they'd reached pension age. The 'baby boomer' generation, however, have experienced longer life expectancy, improved health and financial security.

They can see that, for them, it's not too late at all to start a new life.

In addition, they are buoyed and maybe inspired by plenty of role models, including the former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, who himself tied the knot in 2011 and shows that it's still possible to have a happy marriage in late middle-age.

As Macca proves, 'When I'm 64' can be the point at which new and positive horizons open before you, instead of merely being the cue to claim a bus pass and a cup of cocoa as might once have been thought.