This post explores the long and short term trends in marriage, divorce and cohabitation in the United Kingdom.
It has been written as an introduction to the ‘marriage and divorce’ topic which is usually taught as the second topic within the AQA’s families and households A-level sociology specification.
Marriage and Divorce Trends: An Overview
There was a long term decrease in the number of marriages per year since the late 1960s when there were just over 400 000 marriages every year, until around 2008, when the number hit around 230 000.
There has been a slight increase since then and there are now around 240 000 marriages every year in the UK, and this number has been relatively stable since 2008.
The number of Divorces per year increased rapidly following the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, and then increased steadily until the early 1980s. In the late 1950s, there were only around 20 000 Divorces per year, by the early 1980s this figure had risen to 160 000 per year (quite an increase!)
It then stabilised for about 10 years and then started to decline in 2003, the number of divorces per year is still decline. There are currently just under 90 000 divorces per year in England and Wales.
There has been a long term decline in the number of marriages in England and Wales.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were over 400 00 marriages a year, by 2017 there were just under 250 000 marriages a year.
Although the decline seems to have slowed recently, since 2008.
The marriage rates (unsurprisingly) mirror the above – but you see a more obvious slowing down of the decline since the 2000s here.
What is the average age of Marriage?
The average age of marriage has increased from 25 for women in the 1960s to 36 for women in 2017, the average age for men is slightly higher.
The 36 average figure might be a bit misleading, the median age is slightly younger as shown by the chart below – late 20s and early 30s are when most women get married!
The Decline of Church Weddings
The above chart shows the drastic decrease in religious marriages, down to only 22% of all marriage ceremonies by 2017.
90% of couples cohabited before marrying in 2017, up from 70% in the late 1990s.
Since the 1960s there has been a long term increase in the divorce rate.
The Divorce Rate was extremely low in the late 1950s, at only 2.5 per 100 000 married couples.
The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 led to this increasing rapidly to 10 per thousand in just a few years, by the early 1970s.
The Divorce Rate continued to increase until the early 1990s, when it hit almost 15 per thousand married couples. Since then it has been falling and currently stands at 7.5
The divorce rate has fallen since 2004
The divorce rate has fallen overall since 2004, but increased in recent years.
From 2004 to 2018 the UK divorce rate fell from 13 per 1000 marriages to just above 7 per 1000 marriages, the low point since before the 1969 Divorce Act.
The divorce rate has increased slightly since 2018, but only slightly and is currently at 9 divorces per 1000 in 2022.
The total number of divorces in 2021 was 113, 505.
NB – The Divorce Rate shows a slightly different trend to the ‘number of divorces’ – this is relative to the number of married couples!
What percent of marriages end in divorce?
The percentage of marriages which end in divorce depends on the year in which the marriage took place.
- For those married in 1965, 28.7% of marriages had ended in divorce after 35 years.
- For those married in 1975, 37.6% of marriages had ended in divorce after 35 years.
- For those married in 1985 43.4% of marriages had ended in divorce after 35 years.
- For those married in 1995 41.7% of marriages had ended in divorce after 25 years, and the divorce rate looks set to be higher by 35 years.
- Those married in 2005 and 2015 have lower divorce rates for younger marries, so are set to have divorce rates after 35 years somewhere between 36% and 42%.
For those who got married in 2005, 20.7% had got divorced after 10 years and and 29.2% after 15 years.
How long does the average marriage last?
The length of marriage is increasing. For marriages which end in divorce, the median length of a marriage was 12.3 years.
For same sex couples the median length of marriage is much shorter. It is 5.9 years for male couples and 5.3 years for female couples.
Opposite and Same-Sex Divorces
There were 111. 934 opposite-sex resources in 2021, 63% of which were petitioned by females and 37% petitioned by men.
There were 1571 same-sex divorces, of which 67% were petitioned by female couples. The number of same-sex divorces has increased every year since they first became possible in 2015, following the introduction of same-sex marriage shortly before.
NB it is difficult to compare the rates of divorce between same-sex and opposite-sex couples as same sex marriage has only been around for less than a decade, and most divorces happen after several years of marriage, so we will have to wait a few more years at least to be able to make valid comparisons.
Main sources used to write this post
Office for National Statistics: Divorces in England and Wales 2018