The Office of National Statistics (ONS) on December 8 released the 2010 figures for divorce rates and trends. Divorce rates and trends give us a key insight into the health of the institution of marriage and its social status, and this year’s data in comparison with previous years helps us see the big picture.
According to the figures, the main story is that divorce rates have increased in 2010, which is the first yearly rise in divorces in 8 years, and as such could represent a broader buck in the trend. The 119,589 divorces present in 2010 in comparison with the 113,949 in 2009 shows an increase of 4.9%. However, this increased number does not necessarily mean an increasing prevalence of divorce, as there are other factors to take into account. A better explanation can be made from comparing the number of divorces with the size of the married populace, or in other words the divorce rate, and if we look at the divorce rate we see it being 10.5% in 2009 and increasing by 0.6% in 2010 to 11.1%. This is also an increase, but does this mean that marriage is falling?
It is sensible to say that 2010’s results seem to be more of a glitch in the broader trend of a decline in divorce rates, rather than a shift in the attitude in society towards marriage. For one thing, we have seen such similar glitches at the end of previous recessions, such as the 1990-1992 recession which caused a spike in divorce rates in 1993. There is a clear link of causality between financial recession and divorce, with a lag between the worst of the recession and the divorce rates, with the recession causing the initial reaction of trying to stick together in the hard times, a subsequent increase of financial strain which eventually leads to break up, with extra time needed for the legal proceedings.
Divorce rates in the last decade have been falling fairly significantly despite what you may think, but it should not be forgotten that these decreasing rates could easily be the result of previous decreasing trends leaving a smaller married population in the first place. Having said this, it can be said that this decreasing rate is suggesting that people who are now married are less likely to divorce on average.
Men between 40 and 44 was the most common age group for divorce, though the average age of divorce is slowly increasing, with a 0.2% increase for both sexes rising to 44.2 (male) and 41.7 (female), while the length of marriages has remained the same. The highest divorce rate for men was in the 30-34 year group, which is a large increase from 2009’s 25-29. Could marriages be starting later and lasting longer?
The 2010 figures showed that a third of all marriages failed since 1995, which was an increase from 22% from 1970-95, but the ONS overall is presenting a case for future decline.