Never too old for love

More people above age 60 getting married; most are men with younger, foreign brides

The number of people aged 60 and above getting married has tripled over the past decade but it is mainly older men tying the knot late in life.

There were 369 bridegrooms in this age group last year, triple the 119 in 2003. They comprised 1.4 per cent of all grooms last year, almost triple the 0.5 per cent a decade ago.

Marriage solemnisers and counsellors said most of the men were marrying younger foreign women, and there has been an influx of foreigners seeking Singaporean husbands in the past decade.

With the rising number of divorces, more divorced men are also getting married again.

As for older women, 61 women aged 60 and above tied the knot last year. Although a relatively small number, it was still four times the 15 who got married in 2003.

The Marriages and Divorces 2013 report released by the Statistics Department late last month did not state the nationality of those who married older Singaporeans.

But solemnisers interviewed said most of the elderly grooms married women from countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The 2013 statistics also showed that:

  • Six in 10 grooms were previously divorced and almost three in 10 were widowers;
  • Most of the men married younger women. Only about one in 10 took a wife in his age group;
  • Unlike the men, almost three in four women married men in the same age group;
  • Most of the older brides and grooms had secondary education or lower.

Experts interviewed said more elderly men were marrying because men seek companionship and sexual intimacy more than women, who may receive emotional support from friends.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan said that unlike older women, older men remained "in demand" as spouses.

"It's an age-old expectation that men are able to marry at whatever age they want, as long as they have money," she said.

"And men want a younger bride because they can have them. Younger women still want them, they look up to the men as providers," she added.

Care Corner Counselling Centre counsellor Jonathan Siew said some in society, such as the Chinese-educated, still frown on older women remarrying.

"Some people can be very critical and say things like the woman is so old and still hungry for a man," he said.

"Our society still finds older women remarrying abnormal. Many older women feel this way too and avoid getting into an intimate relationship."

Solemnisers said many of the senior grooms, who hold blue-collar jobs or are retired, marry women half their age.

The couples often meet through their social networks.

Some foreign women married to Singaporean men may also introduce their compatriots to their husbands' male friends.

Solemnisers and counsellors said many of those in late marriages keep their unions a hush-hush matter, afraid of being mocked by others or that their children might object.

Touch Community Services senior counsellor Chan Hon Shek said some children fear that the young foreign woman is out to cheat their father of his money - and their inheritance.

"We see children who bring their fathers for counselling, hoping we can dissuade the man from remarrying," he said. "But the man wants us to persuade his children to accept his new wife."

Grassroots leader Tay Hock Ann recalled solemnising the marriage of a 77-year-old man to a 49-year-old woman from China.

The widower kept the marriage a secret because he knew his children, whom he did not live with and was not close to, would object.

The couple had been introduced by friends. When the man suffered a stroke shortly after they met, the widow from China nursed him back to health. He eventually married her and they saw their union as fated, Mr Tay said.

But social workers said that many elderly grooms with young foreign brides run into multiple problems, from financial woes to difficulty in getting permanent residency status or long-term visit passes for the women.

Ms Ruth Tan, centre director of Marine Parade Family Service Centre, said some of the men are retired and their foreign wives are not allowed to work here.

More problems arise if such couples have children. Given their age or ailing health, the men may find it hard to secure a job or can only work part-time.

Still, those interviewed said they expect the number of late-life marriages to rise, given Singapore's ageing population and longer life expectancy.

Associate Professor Straughan said: "With people being more educated and more open-minded, more will be more accepting of seniors marrying for companionship."

theresat@sph.com.sg