More unions surviving after 60 ?

Population and Societies

389, April 2003

  • Later widowhood
  • Consensual unions vying with re-marriage
  • Life at the oldest ages: more often in unions or living alone


The last French census (1999) found that almost all over-60s had been married only once. Both divorce and new union formation are uncommon at these ages, and conjugal life is most likely to be ended by the death of the lifetime partner. But probability of spousal loss is not the same for men and women. Excess male mortality coupled with partner age differentials (wives averaging three years younger than their husbands) condemns females to widowhood: four in ten women aged 60 and over are now widowed, against just one in ten men (table 1). But older people’s end of life courses are changing: declining mortality is delaying widowhood while rising divorce rates has increased the number of separated couples. There is also a higher incidence of unmarried cohabitation unions. By and large, male and female conjugal statuses are growing increasingly similar.

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