So there's a crisis in housing stock? It must be middle-aged women divorcing for the fun of it

After decades of putting family first, juggling the work-life balance, a woman can be forgiven for feeling this is now her time. Let's hear it for "silver separation"

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The actress Penelope Keith must be happily married. Only the happily married have the audacity to pass judgement on those who might feel miserable or trapped. In an interview with Country Life magazine, the 73-year-old star of To the Manor Born blames women who leave their husbands in mid-life for pushing up house prices. “It’s all those single dwellings, all these women in their fifties and sixties who suddenly want their own space, to be their own people. To do what?”

Well, Penelope, where shall I start? If you have been in an unhappy marriage, this might be your first chance as a woman to escape because the children are older and need you less. After nearly two decades of putting family first, juggling the work-life balance (which usually just means chronic female fatigue as we do the majority of everything), a woman can be forgiven for feeling that this is now her time.

With better health, a little more money in her bank account and plenty of unfulfilled ambitions, many women understandably want to seize the “silver” years for their own personal pleasures and the chance that they might find a happier relationship second time around before it is too late. For the great philosophical bonus of mid-life is that we also know that this is limited time. The grim reaper, ill health or adversity could be lurking around the next corner.

Most people don’t divorce just for the fun of it. It is often emotionally harrowing, expensive and difficult. I see separating couples really struggling with it weekly in my work as a family mediator. But the good news is that many couples go on to find greater happiness second time around, as recent research from The Marriage Foundation shows.

Some 31 per cent of second marriages end in divorce compared with 45 per cent of first marriages, largely because husband and wife are older and have learnt valuable relationship lessons from their mistakes first time around. Presumably, that’s one of the factors in your happy love life of 30 years, Penelope, since your husband was divorced twice before you married him?

As for blaming women for the crisis in housing stock, well that’s just plain daft. Only 2,145 more women in their sixties divorced in 2011 than they did a decade earlier, and many of them will have moved in with someone else in their new relationship.

In tough times, blame abounds. In the past, it has perennially been women who have been the first to cop it. I hope that Penelope Keith’s remarks are not a sign of what’s to come. Lamentable state of the economy and mass unemployment? Must be women taking men’s jobs. Poor growth? Women not shopping enough.

Irrespective of their relationship status, I have no doubt that with more women in mid-life in charge we wouldn’t have a housing crisis to begin with.

Kate Figes’s ‘Our Cheating Hearts: Love & Loyalty; Lust & Lies’ has just been published by Virago

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