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Milestones such as parenthood and retirement coming later in life, figures show

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

People are experiencing major life milestones at an increasingly older age, statistics have revealed.

According to research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), significant life events such as becoming parents or grandparents, divorcing, remarrying and stopping work are occurring later in adulthood than they used to.

Figures also revealed that men and women aged between 65 and 74 are happier than any other age group.

For both sexes, happiness levels were at their lowest when people are in their late forties and early fifties, ONS data revealed.

Measures of personal wellbeing have only been recorded since 2011 and it is unknown if future over-65s will reach similar happiness heights, but researchers said the current older generation felt more positive about personal, social and financial aspects of their lives.

According to the ONS, the average age of becoming a grandparent was 63 in 2017 to 2018, three years later than 2009 to 2010.

Researchers said this was a knock-on effect from the long-term rise in the average age of parenthood.

The average age of first-time mothers is now 29, two-and-a-half years later than in 1999, with the gap between having a second child shrinking over recent decades to now just over two years.

A second child is also likely to be a woman's last, with women in England and Wales who turned 45 in 2018 having an average of 1.89 children - the joint-lowest figure since records began.

Only a quarter (26%) of these women had three or more children, with the number of women with none or just one child increasing over time.

The ONS found that the average age of divorce for opposite-sex couples in 2018 was 46.9 years old for men and 44.5 years old for women, more than six years higher than 20 years ago.

This could be a result of the trend of people getting married later in life and staying married for longer, researchers said.

In England and Wales in 2018, the median length of an opposite-sex marriage before divorce was 12.5 years, the longest duration since records began in 1963.

In 2016, the average age for remarriage for divorced men and women in the UK was 50.4 and 47.4 years old respectively - eight years older than in 1998.

The ONS said the age of employees with the highest average earnings has fluctuated in recent decades, with 41-year-olds earning a peak of £14.83 per hour in 2019.

In 1999, it was 47-year-olds earning the most on average, while in 2009 it was 34-year-olds.

Researchers said those with higher salaries in 2019 were likely to have started work before the 2008 financial crisis, which may have impacted on the rate of pay rises for younger generations.

Average earnings for older workers tend to tail off in later life, possibly due to high earners retiring early and remaining workers taking up lower-paid part-time roles.

Research also showed that people are working later in life than previously.

Between 1999 and 2019, the average age for stopping work increased from 61.7 years to 64.7 years.

The proportion of people providing care peaks at 56 years old for women and 59 years old for men, data showed.

Between the years ending 2008 and 2018, higher proportions of men aged 60 to 64 and women aged 55 to 59 were providing informal care.

Figures also revealed that 40% of female carers and 38% of male carers are looking after a parent.

Women take on the greater share of caring until the age of 74, when the proportion of men providing unpaid care becomes greater.

This could be because women in this age group are more likely to be widowed than men and their parents have died, researchers said.

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