Divorce rates immune from boom and bust

A report from the leading think-tank, The Marriage Foundation, explodes the myth about a link between divorce and recession.

Relationship charities have previously claimed that more married couples break up during an economic downturn because of the strain of financial anxiety putting pressure on relationships.

Arguing the exact opposite, lawyers have suggested recessions keep couples together, as they cannot afford to go through expensive divorce procedures and the cost of buying a second house.

Statisticians at the ONS have failed to make sense of the conflicting arguments. They have simply stated that it is too early to say whether the current fall in divorce rates will continue.

However research, carried out by Harry Benson of The Marriage Foundation, shows that neither side can claim to have reached a valid conclusion because the link simply does not exist.

“For every year since the 1970s – and across every duration of marriage, from ‘newlyweds’ through to ‘silver surfers’ – divorce rates have almost always stayed within plus or minus 10 percent of the previous year’s figure.

“There is no evidence whatsoever to link either economic growth or stock market performance with changes in divorce rates.”

The Marriage Foundation research shows that during the three periods of economic decline since 1979, divorce rates have risen in two cases and fallen in one case.

The 2008 crisis has coincided with a slight fall in the divorce rate, but over the two previous recessions in 1980 and 1991, marriage breakdown rose.

Similarly in times of economic prosperity, the divorce rate fluctuations have been entirely random. The boom in 2003 saw an overall rise of 5 per cent in divorces from the previous year, whereas the 1994 boom saw rates fall 3 per cent. In 1983, a period of strong economic growth, there was no change overall.

Harry Benson, Communications Director at the Marriage Foundation, puts the confusion down to statisticians’ failure to compare like with like:
“It’s hard, if not impossible, to spot any kind of trend in each new year’s divorce rate figures because they combine the divorce rates of couples who have been together, say, two years with those who have been together twenty years.

“Even when you look at how divorce rates change from year to year by duration of marriage, you really can’t make any sense of the random peaks and falls.

“In 1991 for example, divorce rates fell 2 per cent for couples married 20 years, but rose 12 per cent for couples married 21 years. If this were linked to the economy, these figures would head in the same direction.

“To see the real trend, you need to follow the couples who marry in any particular year and compare how they fare over time against couples who married in other years. Only then can you see the real picture, which is that divorce rates are falling entirely because couples are doing better in the early years. For couples married ten years or more, divorce rates haven’t changed in decades.”


Here you can download the Research Briefing Paper as a PDF and the Press Release where it is available.

Media Links

Daily Mail, 24 June 2013
Financial pressures during a recession ‘does NOT lead to more break ups’

Daily Telegraph, 24 June 2013
The theory that recession leads to a rise in divorce has been dismissed in a new study arguing that there is no link between the economy and family break-up

Marilyn Stowe Blog, 24 June 2013
The Marriage Foundation: ‘no link’ between divorce and recession

Money and Divorce, 1st July 2013
Marriage Foundation’s new report says recession ‘does not lead to more break ups’

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