Breaking down the latest ONS divorce statistics
The press have largely reported that decreasing divorce rates are a positive sign and whilst it is true that rates are indeed on the decline it is important to remember that almost half of all marriages in England and Wales still end in divorce.
There is huge policy interest in family breakdown from both a moral and economic point of view. It is estimated that relationship breakdown (this includes breakdown of cohabiting relationships as well as divorces) costs the state £44 billion a year.
The negative impacts of broken homes on children are well documented; meaning there is great cause for concern that one in three children in the UK will be affected by the separation of their parents before they reach 16. Approximately one-half of couples divorcing in 2010 had at least one child aged under 16, and over a fifth were under age five. Moreover the number of children affected by divorce has risen over the past few decades, from about 82,000 (under 16 years) in 1971 to 100,000 in 2009.
The official figures recently released show that in 2011 a total of 117,558 couples divorced, a decrease of 1.7% on the figures for 2010 when 119,589 marriages formally ended.
To break the figures down further, 10.8 married people in every 1,000 legally separated in 2011, compared with 12.9 people in every 1,000 in 2001.
In terms of the percentage of marriages ending in divorce this is now estimated at 42% compared with 45% in 2005. The Office for National Statistics states that this may be related to two factors. That couples are marrying at a later age and previous research has shown that those marrying at an older age have a lower risk of divorce (Wilson and Smallwood, 2008). Secondly that cohabitation has increased in recent years. Cohabitation is often a precursor to marriage and may act to factor out weaker relationships from progressing to marriage (Beaujouan and Bhrolchain, 2011)
Of course the recession and unstable economy may also play a significant part in changes in divorce rates. Couples will come under stress from long working hours, fear of or impact of redundancy and generally the strain of living on less. For some eventually the pressure on the relationship becomes too much and divorce becomes inevitable.
However the recession may also make divorce less feasible resulting in some couples living separately in the same house – a form of hidden separation.
So with all the current stresses and strains on family life it will be interesting to see what the next data release shows us and the debate that follows.
Want to find out more on divorce and separation issues? Visit our ‘Splitting Up’ section.