ONS divorce data published today appears to show that divorce rates have fluctuated up and down over the past twenty years.
However this “year of divorce” method of calculating divorce rates makes analysis of trends all but impossible to assess because it mixes marriages of different durations.
In a report published today, Early marriages stronger for 8th year running, the Marriage Foundation instead picks out the couples who married in any particular year and tracks the rate at which they divorce over time.
This “year of marriage” method shows that divorce rates in the first five years of marriage have been falling, more or less continuously, for sixteen years
In the past eight years, the fall has been uninterrupted.
The divorce rates for couples in the early years of their marriages has fallen for the eighth year running, according to an analysis of new Office National Statistics (ONS) data published today.
Over the past sixteen years, divorce rates have fallen steadily, with the exception of a small rise in the late 1990s.
Couples who married in 1991 experienced an all-time peak rate of divorce. An average of 2.12 percent of couples divorced during each of their first five years of marriage.
In contrast, couples marrying in 2007 were 35 percent less likely to divorce during the first five years, compared to the 1991 couples.
The annual divorce rate for 2007 couples averaged at 1.39 percent per year.
Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation think tank, who compiled the report, strongly welcomed the findings.
“This is a real blow for those who try to claim that divorce rates are forever rising and that marriage is becoming an obsolete institution. What we’re seeing in fact is the strengthening of marriage over time.
“These findings are particularly positive because, as previous Marriage Foundation research has shown, most of the rise in divorce since the 1960s has taken place in the early years of marriage.
“The three to six year period has consistently been the most risky for couples. While this remains the case, now we are seeing a significant long term strengthening of marriage at this most difficult stage.
The decline in divorce rates has been accompanied by fewer women instigating proceedings. The proportion of men instigating proceedings has remained largely unchanged.
Harry Benson commented: “This is in line with the latest developments in commitment theory.
“Now that fewer men feel pressured by social or family expectation to ‘do the decent thing’ and get married – even if they do not feel committed to their partner – those who do decide generally fare better.
“What we are seeing is fewer women feeling the need to separate from husbands who are married to them more out of a sense of duty than a desire for a shared future.
“The concrete, active decision to commit and plan for a shared future has a hugely powerful impact on relationships – especially for men – meaning that statistically marriage is far more likely to work than cohabitation.
“Cohabiting couples make up only 19 percent of couples, and yet account for 48 percent of family breakdown.
“Cohabiting couples are therefore four times more likely to split than married couples.
“In the week before Valentine’s Day, let’s hope lots of couples feel heartened by this positive news and maybe take the opportunity to make their own plans for a shared future.”