LONDON (Reuters) - More men and women over 60 became divorced in England and Wales in 2011 than a year earlier, despite the overall divorce rate falling, according to figures released by the UK statistics body on Thursday.
Changes in their lives such as children leaving home and retirement, combined with higher life expectancy are thought to have contributed to people divorcing later in life.
While the overall number of divorces in England and Wales fell by 2 percent last year, so called "silver separations" rose by 5 percent, reaching the highest level since 1972's spike, when overseas divorces became recognized in UK law, the Office of National Statistics said.
"Older people getting divorced is often a result of couples drifting apart after ‘empty nest syndrome' as the children head off to university or move out of the family home," said John Nicholson, a family law partner at Irwin Mitchell.
UK pensions expert and campaigner, Ros Altmann thinks more than 15,000 men and women over the age of 60 got divorced last year partly because people are living longer.
"In the past couples might have stayed together because they thought 'What have I got left to live?' Now you're not old at 60. Your life is just beginning in a new phase," she said.
Breakdowns in high profile celebrity marriages have attracted attention to the trend.
In October, actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, both in their 60s, shocked Hollywood by ending their 30-year marriage.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 65, and his wife, Maria Shriver, 57, announced that they were separating in May last year having been married since 1986.
Rolling Stones rocker Ronnie Wood, 65, and Jo, 57, finalized their divorce last year, ending 24 years of marriage.
The number of divorces in 2011 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.
The slight decline in the overall divorce rate for 2011 is consistent with the falling number of marriages as couples prefer to cohabit without tying the knot.
However, based on marriage, divorce and mortality statistics for 2010, it is estimated that the proportion of marriages ending in divorce has fallen since 2005.
The percentage of marriages ending in divorce in 2010 was 42 percent, compared with 45 percent in 2005.
Reporting By Dasha Afanasieva, editing by Paul Casciato