Lifetime divorce risk: Back to the 1960s

A new report released today by Marriage Foundation, ahead of National Marriage Week (13-19 May), shows that lifetime divorce risk has risen from 28 per cent for couples who married in 1963, peaking at 44 per cent for couples who married in 1986, falling back down to 35 per cent for couples marrying today.

Data commissioned from the Office for National Statistics was used to map the number of actual divorces that occurred after any duration of marriage onto the year in which those marriages took place, and then to calculate actual and projected divorce rates for each ‘year of marriage’ since 1963.

Divorce rates peaked between 1982 and 1996 where more than 42 per cent of marriages in any of these years have ended, or will end, in divorce. The worst year in which to marry was 1986, where the cumulative risk is 44 per cent. This estimate is likely to prove extremely accurate as 96 per cent of the 1986 couples who were going to divorce will have already done so. A table of lifetime divorce risks by wedding year 1963 to 2016 is included below.

Sir Paul Coleridge, founder of Marriage Foundation and former high court judge, welcomed the results of this report and what it indicates. “At the start of Marriage Week 2019, it is really heartening to have such clear evidence that divorce rates have been falling steadily and are now stable. The same is true of marriage rates. The single most important factor in a child’s healthy development is the stable relationship of the parents. Informal cohabitation will never offer the same level of family stability as a committed relationship supported by a legal arrangement i.e. marriage. Cohabitation failure rates are three times higher. If only governments could wake up to this evidence which year on year stares them in the face and unequivocally and fearlessly advocate the advantages of marriage a great many of the familiar clichéd social problems we read about would decline. Children, teenagers and the least well off would be the main beneficiaries but we would in fact all benefit.”

‘The huge fall in lifetime divorce risk shows that the current generation of newlyweds is far more serious about their commitment than their parents were,’ added Harry Benson, research director for Marriage Foundation.

‘Couples who married in the 1980s and 1990s often did so because social and family pressure encouraged fragile cohabitees to take the next step before they were ready. That pressure to marry has now disappeared. The result is that today’s marriages are as strong as their grandparents were. But while marriage is on an upward trajectory, cohabitation remains as unstable and risky as ever. The next challenge is how to encourage couples who don’t marry to become similarly intentional.’


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

Media Links

The Times, September 22, 2018

By Frances Gibb: Divorce rate among newly married halves in 25 years

Daily Mail, September 22, 2018

By Claire Anderson: Divorce rates drop to their lowest levels in nearly 30 years as ‘men take more responsibility to make their marriages work’

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