Why is Divorce Declining in the UK?

Last Updated on May 31, 2023 by Karl Thompson

The Divorce Rate in the UK has now been declining for several years, why is this?

The divorce rate has been declining since 1993 when it was at a peak of just under 15 divorces per thousand marriages. The divorce rate declined slowly to 13 per thousand marriages by 2003 and then started to decline much more rapidly. In 2019 the divorce rate was down to 7 per thousand marriages, which is a 50 year low!

image showing the changing divorce rate in the UK to 2022

Three reasons for declining divorce

This article from the Economist (2011) argues there are three main reasons for the recent decrease in the divorce rate:

  • The decline in marriage: if fewer people are getting married then there will be less divorce. Especially when there is less social pressure to get married since the 1980s which means those people who get married are more likely to want to get married, and so more likely to stay together.
  • The increase in house prices: so people just stay together for economic reasons; they cannot afford to split up and move into two separate houses.
  • The increase in immigration: immigrants are less likely to get divorced and net migration has been very high in recent years.

Recent marriages have lower divorce rates

This interesting article from the Institute for Family studies offers an explanation for why this is… (from 2018)

They analyse the divorce rate by looking at the different divorce rates by number of years a couple has been married.

One of their findings is that if a couple makes it to ten years of marriage, then they are just as likely to stay together if they got married in the 1960s, compared to if they got married in the 2000s.

After ten years of marriage, the percentage going on to get divorced is 20%, this has been consistent over several decades.

What has declined drastically is the number of couples married less than 10 years getting divorced…

“Actual UK divorce rates among the most recent newlyweds are now down by 59% over the first three years of marriage from the peak, 47% over the first five years, and 27% over the first 10 years of marriage.”

Men: from sliders to deciders

The article points out that the high divorce rate in the 1970s-1980s among younger married couples was probably due to men going into marriage but not really being committed – that is they ‘slid’ into marriage, from social pressure, possibly encouraged into marriage due to the uncertainty of changing male roles during that period.

Meanwhile, women in the 1970s and 80s, experiencing positive gender-role changes had high expectations from men who hadn’t ‘decided’ to go into marriage.

The marriage of the two created a peak of divorces among newly married couples.

Now that there is less social pressure to get married, and cohabitation is more acceptable, men are more likely to ‘decide’ to get married rather than ‘slide’ into it, and so marriages are more likely to last the course!

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