Divorce trends and statistics are always a popular topic of discussion for those who are interested in the state of society and relationships. Each year the figures for marriage and divorce in England and the UK in general are eagerly dissected to see if trends can be discerned and predictions can be made about the future. The latest statistics, produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), estimate that 42% of marriages in England and Wales will end in divorce and that the average marriage will last 32 years. Looking in more detail the ONS has calculated that 34% of marriages will end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary and 16% will reach the 60th wedding anniversary. The total number of divorces each year has continued in a downward trend since 2004. In 2010 there were 119,589 divorces in England and Wales and in 2011 there were 117,558 (as an interesting point of reference, in 1901 there were 512 divorces). So, what trends and patterns have different researchers and experts put forward after examining the divorce statistics?
One of the key trends in divorce in England and Wales is that the first ten years of marriage are the most turbulent. According to the ONS the greatest proportion of divorces occur among couples that are in their first decade of marriage. The probability of getting divorced by the next wedding anniversary increases rapidly in the first 5 years of marriage and the chance of divorce is greatest between the 4th and 8th wedding anniversaries. These findings do lend some weight to the idea of the ‘seven year itch’.
The first decade of marriage has the greatest chance of divorce but also sees the most change. Divorce rates and trends are very consistent and predictable after the first ten years. If there is a change in the overall divorce rate it is usually due to fluctuations in the divorce habits of those in their first decade of marriage. Many experts have pointed out that the divorce rates for those who have passed their 10th wedding anniversary have remained much the same since the 1960s. The risk of divorce tails off with 1 in 5 divorces taking place after 20 years and 1/100 after 40 years – and has remained almost unchanged.
Much has been made of the rise of the ‘silver-splitters’ in recent years. This term describes the rise in the number of couples over 60 years old who are getting divorced. In 2001 4.6% of males getting divorced and 2.6% of females were aged 60 and over. In just ten years that proportion has almost doubled with 8% of males and 5% of females who are 60 and over getting divorced.
There are many underlying factors that arguably contribute to this ‘phenomenon’ The average age of people getting married has increased, meaning that it is possible many people in their 60s have only been married for around 25 years, and therefore have a higher risk of divorce than if they had been married for 40 years. Others have suggested that there is a greater life expectancy and ‘lust for life’ among people in this age group than ever before – retirement brings the opportunity to evaluate how they want to live their lives. Relationships can also falter when ’empty nest syndrome’ occurs – children have grown up and left home and retirement is looming – and strain is put on the marriage.
When looking at divorce trends many people are looking at wider factors that may be affecting the divorce rates. Some experts have looked at the effect of cohabitation on divorce. It has previously been suggested that couples who live together before they get married are more likely to get divorced, but this may not be true. Cohabitation, i.e. living with a partner without being married to them, used to be frowned upon and was seen as unacceptable. As times have changed attitudes towards cohabitation have also evolved and increasing numbers of people are choosing to cohabit.
The amount of people cohabiting in the UK was 5.9 million in 2012 (double the amount in 1996). It has been put forward that, instead of ‘competing’ with marriage, cohabitation can be seen as promoting marriage. The fall in the divorce rate in those still in the first decade of marriage could be attributed to the prominence of cohabitation. It has been suggested that cohabitation can cause more unstable and fragile relationships to break down before the couple marry, meaning that the couples that do go on to marry after cohabiting are less likely to divorce.
In terms of slightly less serious research, the Marriage Foundation, a think-tank that focuses on family and relationships, has found that celebrities are twice as likely to get divorced than the rest of the UK population. The Marriage Foundation tracked 572 celebrity couples who have got married since 2000. The findings showed that after ten years of marriage, the divorce rate for celebrities is 40% while the rate for the rest of the UK population is half that, at 20%. The Marriage Foundation has also looked at whether having a pet is the sign of a long lasting marriage. According to the think-tank, couples choosing to take on a pet shows a more active sign of commitment and therefore a potentially reduced risk of divorce. Taking on a dog or cat can be seen as a ‘dedication commitment’ while having a child, in some cases, can be seen as a ‘constraint commitment’ – the former being more conducive to a successful relationship.
By Izzy Evans