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How finding love is different for the over 50s

Last updated 12th April 2024

5 min read

We’ve run a survey to explore how the dating habits and hopes of over 50s is different from younger generations.

As we get older, it’s no secret that our priorities change. While these are unique to everyone, with age comes wisdom and awareness of what matters most to you.

Whether that’s family, friendships, hobbies, or religion, our golden years are all about creating a lifestyle that’s filled to the brim with what we really value and enjoy doing.

And this applies to our love lives too. We recently ran a survey with 2,000 UK adults to see how our approach to dating – and finding new love – changes as we get older.

One key takeaway from the research is that over 50s are very particular about any new partner’s physical appearance, personality traits, and lifestyle choices. All of these must be in line with our own expectations to achieve a ‘match’. After all, there’s no need to settle – especially at such a key period in our lives.

Read on to find out more about our research, and some of the other over 50s dating insights we discovered.

Finding new love gets harder as we get older

It appears that finding ‘the one’ gets harder the older you get.

While 25–35-year-olds seem to be thriving when it comes to their love lives (70% would describe theirs as ‘good’ or ‘great’), just 41% of over 50s would say the same.

In fact, 17% of over 50s say their love life is either ‘bad’ or ‘worse than ever’.

Hope is not lost though, as the main reason finding love appears to be more challenging when we’re older is because of the limited ways we’re meeting new people.

Is romance getting in the way of meeting people?

It turns out that most over 50s are hopeless romantics. Rather than proactively joining dating apps or going on blind dates, most (55%) hope to meet someone by chance – a ‘love at first sight’ moment, so to speak.

While this is admirable, it could be limiting the likelihood of meeting someone new.

In contrast, only 1 in 8 (12%) 25–35s expect to meet their next partner naturally – showing they’re more proactive in their search for the perfect partner. This could partly explain why they consider their love lives to be better.

How single over 50s hope to meet someone:

  • Naturally (55%)
  • Dating app (13%)
  • Bar/pub (8%)
  • Class/activity club (6%)
  • Set up by a friend (5%)

Just 6% of over 50s say they would attend classes or clubs to meet someone. But there are some fantastic opportunities out there – whether that’s attending a dance class or volunteering.

Speed dating is also a no-go, with less than 1 in 100 over 50s prepared to try this.

So, is it time to take a leaf out of the younger generation’s book and be more proactive in finding ‘the one’? We have a guide to the best dating apps for over 50s to help anyone feeling nervous about this.

Brains and good looks count – but money doesn’t matter

What we want from a partner changes as we get older. Certain qualities become more important, and our survey shows there’s less willingness to compromise on a love interest’s looks, personality traits, or the compatibility of their lifestyle choices.

While many may assume that ‘good looks’ matter more to younger generations, it’s actually more important to over 50s.

3 in 4 say this as a top priority for a new partner (75%) – while only 47% of those aged 49 and under say attractiveness matters to them.

Brains are also a massive ‘turn on’ for over 50s. Over half of those surveyed say intelligence is a must in a new partner (53%), compared to just 1 in 3 of those aged 49 and under (32%).

Many over 50s also don’t want to the spend their golden years cleaning up after their partner. Nearly half (48%) say having someone who can ‘independently look after themselves’ is essential, compared to only a quarter (26%) of under 49s.

And just 1 in 20 (6%) over 50s say their perfect partner would ideally have a high income/big pension, compared to 1 in 5 under 50s (20%).

But while over 50s may not expect their love interest to be a millionaire, being debt-free does matter to many of them. 1 in 3 (33%) say this is essential, compared to just 12% of those aged 49 and under.

The top five things over 50s look for in a partner:

  1. Attraction (75%)
  2. Intelligence (53%)
  3. Humour (51%)
  4. Independence/can look after themselves (48%)
  5. Shared interests/hobbies (42%)

Enjoying activities together really counts

Over 50s are also more interested in finding a partner with shared interests or hobbies. Over 4 in 10 (42%) say this matters to them, versus just 18% of 25–35s, and 25% of 35–45s.

Older age groups would also like to travel with their partner. A third say finding someone who likes to travel is important (30%), compared to only 16% of those 49 and under.

And a generous, charitable partner is highly sought after among older singles too. A quarter (25%) of over 50s say they want this trait in a new love interest, versus just 11% of under 49s.

A driving licence is also a must. A third (33%) of over 50s say this is key, compared to only 17% of under 49s.

There are some areas where compromises can be made

Most over 50s admit they’re not prepared to compromise on attraction to their new love interest, intelligence, humour, and shared hobbies. But there are some areas where concessions can be made.

For example, just 3% of over 50s say it’s essential that a new partner supports the same sports team as them.

And wanting children, being previously married, and being older also don’t matter to most.

But more men have a preference for partners who are younger than them (16%, vs only 3% of women).

On the other hand, women are more likely to prefer partners with a higher income/bigger pension (18%, vs 8% of men) and who can drive (28%, vs 19% of men).

The top five things over 50s say don’t matter to them in a relationship:

  1. Support the same sports team (97%)
  2. Want children in the future (97%)
  3. Haven’t been married before (96%)
  4. Are older (96%)
  5. Have a high-earning job (94%)

The UK capitals of love – and how priorities vary by location

Across all age groups, Glasgow is the UK’s ‘lucky in love’ capital, with 6 in 10 (60%) saying they are happy with their love life right now.

When it comes to finding a new love interest, having no debts is most important for people in Sheffield (33%), Nottingham (28%), and Cardiff (29%).

Belfast residents are most likely to state that having a high-earning job matters to them (28%).

Sheffield (20%), Glasgow (19%), and Belfast (19%) residents are also more likely to say a love interest with a good fashion sense is a desirable trait.

And finally, Sheffield (24%), Nottingham (22%), and Liverpool (21%) locals are more likely to put ‘being good in bed’ as important to them.

Our conclusion

We’re pleased to see that there are discussions happening about over 50s dating, with celebs like Davina McCall talking about the importance of friends setting people up.

Finding new love or ‘the one’ in our later years no longer has the stigma it used to. What’s clear is that we’re not prepared to compromise on the important things as we get older, and why should we? Knowing what matters most is important, and finding a partner that ticks all the boxes is only reasonable.

What’s also clear is that some over 50s could do with a little nudge to help get ‘out there’. Relying on chance encounters alone could be limiting, and even risks feelings of isolation or loneliness. Trying apps, classes, and groups could help increase the likelihood of finding someone you truly connect with.

Our study sources and methodology

  • Survey of 2,000 UK respondents conducted in February 2024.
  • Data split by respondent age (under 50s and over 50s), gender, relationship status, and nearest city.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.