The Australian Seniors Series: Love After 50 Report 2023

While love is a fundamental aspect of our lives, how many of us really talk about it? With more and more over 50s separating in recent years, a trend has emerged coined the ‘grey divorce'. 

Attitudes towards love and marriage are changing, with divorce less stigmatised and wider acceptance of singlehood in later life, prompting many of us to openly re-evaluate what our relationships mean to us moving forward.

The Love After 50 Report 2023 forms part of the Australian Seniors Research Series, studying the landscape of relationships among our senior community. Surveying 1,240 Australians over 50, this chapter explores the factors currently influencing relationship satisfaction during later stages of life, the evolving dynamics of singlehood, and the influence finances and retirement planning has in our relationships. 

Finances often at the root of relationship strain

The cost-of-living crisis is impacting many areas of our lives, so it’s unsurprising that our relationships haven’t been left unscathed. Financial worries are driving a wedge between partners, with over 2 in 5 (42%) of us admitting that money and debt have negatively affected our relationships. In fact, many couples over 50 are navigating ongoing economic pressures, with most of us managing a lower disposable income (65%), financial stress (57%), and challenges in saving (52%). 

The Australian Seniors Series: Love After 50 Report 2023 Infographic 1

But what’s the alternative? History has shown that separation can bring its own set of financial challenges. In fact, most (57%) of us who chose to separate experienced negative financial impacts as a result.

It appears the same financial strains are taking their toll on more than a third (37%) of us who are seriously questioning whether to continue within our relationships. Meanwhile, a similar proportion of us are determined to make things work by improving communication (35%) or exploring new activities to do together (26%) during these challenging times. 

Growing together or growing apart 

Beyond money worries, the trend of the grey divorce is on the rise and points to a surprising leading cause. Empty nest syndrome was reported as the most common factor driving separations for close to half (48%) of us.

There are many other reasons why the years after 50 can become a challenging time for our relationships, as we learn to make the transition towards retirement, empty nesting and managing our physical health. 

The Australian Seniors Series: Love After 50 Report 2023 Infographic 2

Changing needs and expectations around intimacy (32%), retirement adjustments (34%) and physical health concerns (28%) all add to the strain felt by around a third of us. The same reasons are contributing to 1 in 6 (16%) of us discussing divorce or separation with our partners, even if we ultimately decided to stick it out together for the long-haul.

Secrets to a happy relationship

Against all odds, most couples over 50 are happily weathering the storm together. In fact, 5 in 6 (85%) of us are satisfied with our relationships. And it’s clear that trust and loyalty (77%), mutual respect (71%) and open communication (66%) are the key ingredients for a happy, lasting partnership. 

The Australian Seniors Series: Love After 50 Report 2023 Infographic 3

With almost 9 in 10 (88%) of us comfortable discussing finances with our partners and half (50%) of us noting the huge emotional challenges that come with separation, it seems that we’ve learned some valuable skills over the years to help us navigate all the challenges we’ve confronted in 2023.

More freedom to be you

Whilst many continue to find joy in relationships, a growing number (57%) of us are enjoying being single after the age of 50. In fact, among those of us who have experienced divorce or separation, nearly half (46%) of us prefer to stay single and just over 1 in 10 (12%) prefer to stick to casual relationships. 

Although the fear of loneliness (61%) and ageing without a partner’s support (55%) weighs on the minds of many of us, a similar number (55%) of single seniors are more than content enjoying the benefits of additional personal space (73%), greater independence (72%) and some well-earned peace and quiet (63%).

On the flip side, many of us are hopeful of finding love again, with close to a quarter (23%) of us on the lookout for a committed relationship (but not marriage) after divorce or separation. Interestingly, only 1 in 20 (4%) would consider remarrying after having separated in later life. 

Providing more opportunity to enjoy life as an individual, 2024 looks bright for both partnered and single seniors alike.

Dr Blair-West says, “the good news is that re-partnering later in life means people are much more able to choose a partner who aligns with their values and the life that they want. Moreover, maturity brings an ability to better assess a potential partner’s character and thereby make a better match.”