The divorce rate among opposite-sex couples in England and Wales is at its lowest since 1973, according to new research from the ONS. Only 8.4 per 1,000 married couples got a divorce in 2017, a decrease of 5.6% compared with 2016.
The ONS publication, which was released yesterday, looks at a number of factors which can influence the divorce rate, such as:
- age of divorce
- duration of marriage
- opposite-sex v same-sex divorce rate
- reason for divorce
Average age of divorce in England & Wales
In 2017, the highest divorce rate for opposite-sex couples was among men between the ages of 45 and 49 (average age of 46.4), and women aged 40 to 44 (averaged at 43.9). Following a pattern that has remained unchanged since 2014, women are still more likely to divorce before the age of 45 while men divorce more than women at an older age. The report states that age is closely linked with the risk of divorce, believing that those who marry in their teens and early twenties are at a much higher chance of entering into divorce at a later stage in life. Against 2016’s statistics, the divorce rate in 2017 has fallen across every age group for both men and women except those aged 60 and over (a figure which has remained the same at 1.6 per 1,000 couples).
Duration of marriage
The mid-point of all durations of marriage in England and Wales in 2017 has increased slightly from 12.0 years in 2016, to 12.2 years. This figure has matched that of the historical high 12.2 years in 1972 according to the statistics.
Same-sex couple divorce rate rises
Despite the fall in opposite-sex divorces, 2017 saw a spike in divorces among same-sex couples. It was reported that there were 338 same-sex divorces in England and Wales – three times more than in 2016 (112 divorces), with 74% of those divorces happening among female couples. Following the same pattern of opposite-sex couples, (in which women divorce younger than men and vice versa), the average age at which a same-sex couple divorced in 2017 was 38.3 years old for women, and 42.0 years for men.
Reason for divorce in England & Wales
With 62% of all divorces being petitioned by the wife in opposite-sex couples in 2017, 52% of these were on the grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’. This has been the most common ground in which wives have petitioned a divorce since the 70’s. It has also been the most consistent reason for husbands since 2006, with 37% claiming unreasonable behaviour in 2017. The ground of unreasonable behaviour for divorce was even higher among same-sex couples: 83% among women stated unreasonable behaviour while 73% of divorces among men were petitioned on this ground.
The study also noted that the fall in divorce rates could be influenced by behavioural and attitude changes towards marriage, with many couples now choosing to cohabit rather than enter into marriage. This was seen previously – between 2003 and 2009 – when the decline in divorces was consistent with the decrease in marriages.
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