In recent years, divorce rates have exhibited a remarkable decline, going back down to levels reminiscent of the 1970s. A report from the Marriage Foundation think tank suggests that this trend is driven by a surge in marital contentment among women, leading to a significant drop in the predicted risk of divorce.
This article aims to explain the findings of this study. We explore the factors contributing to this downward shift in all types of divorce and examine the contrasting opinions of divorce experts.
The Marriage Foundation's long-term analysis reveals a fascinating trend in divorce rates, particularly among couples who tied the knot in the 1980s. The predicted risk of divorce over a lifetime for those marrying currently stands at 35 percent, mirroring the statistics from the 1970s.
This marks a substantial decrease from the peak of 44 percent observed among couples marrying in 1986, a period that saw the highest-ever rates of marital separations. This shows that divorce rates seem to be on a decline.
A pivotal discovery from the research indicates that the diminishing rate of marriage breakdown is predominantly attributed to a decline in the number of women filing for divorce. While the numbers of divorces initiated by husbands have remained relatively constant since the 1970s, divorces granted to wives have plummeted by 36 percent from 1986 to 2021. The contrast in trends suggests a noteworthy shift in the dynamics of marital relationships.
Harry Benson, the research director for Marriage Foundation, attributes the decrease in wives seeking divorces to an increase in overall marital satisfaction. He contends that this surge in happiness is a direct result of husbands displaying greater levels of commitment.
According to Benson, the traditional social pressure for couples to marry may have led women to wed less committed partners. However, as marriage becomes more optional, couples are entering matrimony with genuine commitment, resulting in fewer divorces initiated by women.
The study's analysis extends over several decades, encompassing couples who married in different eras. For instance, of the 347,924 couples who married in 1986, 44 percent have or will divorce. In contrast, of the 213,122 couples who married in 2019, only 35 percent are expected to or have separated. This long-term perspective paints a nuanced picture of evolving attitudes towards marriage and divorce.
The Marriage Foundation challenges recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which indicated a spike in divorce levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the ONS reported a 9.6 percent increase in the number of married couples separating between 2020 and 2021, Benson suggests that this rise may be attributed to the clearing of divorce backlogs and expedited legal processing rather than the pandemic-induced strains on relationships.
Despite the Marriage Foundation's findings, some divorce experts raise alternative explanations for the decline in divorces initiated by women. Sara Davison, a divorce coach, posits that financial constraints, exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, may deter women from pursuing divorce.
Additionally, she highlights the persisting challenges faced by women in balancing childcare responsibilities, making divorce less financially and emotionally viable for many. This means some women who want divorces aren’t financially able to ask for them.
Read our guide: What Should a Wife Ask For in a Divorce?
Our modern culture’s idea of marriage is shifting, with divorce rates returning to levels akin to those of the 1970s. The Marriage Foundation's research sheds light on the evolving dynamics within marital relationships, emphasizing the role of increased marital contentment, particularly among women.
However, as with any complex societal trend, diverse perspectives exist, challenging a singular explanation for the decline in divorce rates. Some argue that this change is a reflection of recent financial troubles such as inflation, which means couples struggle to live alone and afford childcare as single parents.