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Changes to Divorce Rates Since the 1960s

Thursday, 21 February 2013

It is a common assumption that divorce rates have risen since the 1960s but new research from The Marriage Foundation shows that this is not necessarily the case. The research shows that couples who manage to make it through the first decade of marriage have the same chances of staying together thereafter as previous generations have had.

The most significant changes to divorce rates have in fact been confined to that critical ten year period at the beginning of married life, so what else can we learn from these figures?

The Risk of Divorce – Headline Statistics

The risk of divorce after the first ten years of marriage is virtually the same whether couples got married in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. The risk starts out at over 20 per cent in the first decade but falls significantly with each additional decade of married life to less than 1 per cent by the fourth decade.

The overall divorce rate for couples who get married today is estimated at 39%, based on current rates.

The First Ten Years of Marriage

The first ten years of marriage appear to be the most important regarding divorce for a number of reasons. Firstly, that initial decade of married life is statistically the most likely period in which a marriage will fail. Secondly, the largest variations in divorce rates since the 1960s have taken place in that first decade.

Although years one to ten see the highest rates of divorce, the fabled ‘7 year itch’ seems to be a myth; divorce rates actually peak between the third and sixth year of marriage. However, evidence shows that these turbulent years are becoming less so with fewer couples married in the early 2000s divorcing in that period.

The lion’s share of variation in divorce rates has also been confined to that initial ten year period. Rates increased significantly from below 10 per cent in the 60s right through the 70s and 80s before peaking in the early 90s at nearly 25 per cent and then gradually declining.


The Marriage Foundation has drawn a number of conclusions from these figures, the most important of which are based upon the consistency of marriage, particularly after the first ten years.

Recession and age make little difference to divorce rates according to the Foundation. Furthermore, the rise in “silver surfer” divorces is actually down to couples getting married later rather than older marriages actually becoming more fragile.

The first ten years of marriage are likely to prove the most fruitful focus of policies that aim to reduce divorce rates due to the variability in these figures since the 1960s. The good news is that they already appear to be on a downward trajectory.

If you would like to discuss the implications of these findings or you need advice in relation to other family law issues please contact the Family law Department by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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