11/09/2013 09:21 BST | Updated 06/11/2013 05:12 GMT

The Private Life of the Modern British Pensioner

It seems that those of us yet to reach the age when we can start to draw our pension form wildly different perceptions of those above the age of 65.

They tend to be regarded by their communities and by comedians with curiously varied degrees of respect. People either dwell on their rich fund of wisdom acquired from the experience of a lifetime or imagine only bus passes, bingo and blue-rinsed hair.

However, it appears that those somewhat traditional and hackneyed views of senior citizens could be nothing like the way they consider themselves.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just published a fascinating snapshot of the lives of the over-65s in England and Wales.

It compares the lives of individuals of that age group as recorded in the census of 2001 with data compiled for a similar national survey a decade later.

What the ONS has found provides not only an indication as to how they live their lives - their health, wealth and housing status - but gives additional valuable evidence of the changes in relationships enjoyed or endured by the modern pensioner and those of previous generations.

For instance, whilst divorce among those younger than 65 increased by only one per cent between 2001 and 2011, it rose by four times as much in people over that age.

More than that, the number of those aged 65 and over who were cohabiting almost doubled - increasing from 1.6% of that age group to 2.8%.

Given that more than nine million people fall into the over-65 age bracket in England and Wales, these are no small developments. The numbers involved are substantial.

I believe that what the ONS has reported bears out the sort of situations which myself and my colleagues in Pannone's Family department have seen frequently in the last few years.

The rise in those people opting to divorce in middle-age and even later - the so-called 'silver splitters - clearly illustrates how their attitudes to divorce differ from their parents and grandparents.

Only a month ago, another package of data from the ONS showed that the number of men who divorce over the age of 60 has increased by 73 per cent since 1991. It was a finding that underlined how divorce no longer had the social stigma which it once might have carried.

Greater life expectancy has also contributed to couples who might have remained together in unhappy marriages in previous generations being more prepared to go their separate ways.

Furthermore, ONS material published last November detailed how the number of cohabiting couples had doubled in the space of only 16 years.

The idea of living together but remaining unmarried is also, then, more acceptable than it had been, something which this latest tranche of data demonstrates is as true for over-65s as people of any age.

There is another possible reason, however, as to why the elderly could be opting for cohabitation rather than formalising any relationships they may begin after a divorce.

It seems that both men and women are particularly conscious of their respective financial positions the older that they become.

Women don't want to jeopardise any settlement from a divorce by remarrying while men don't want to run the risk of another failed marriage because both sexes have limited amounts of time to build their assets up again, especially if a pension is their only form of income.

They're not only concerned for their own financial futures. They're well aware of the impact of another possible divorce on what their children may inherit.

This fluid, flexible picture may go some way to altering our perception of the older members of society. How do we know whether that bus pass is just used for a trip to the shops or is, in fact, a ticket to a new and exciting life?