It is common to hear that divorce rates are increasing – that 1 in marriages ends in divorce in Australia. But is that really true? Is divorce declining?
The idea of divorce can be a contributor to our hesitation in making the marriage leap. Marriage is not something most of us enter into lightly. So should we be feeling more hopeful about rates of divorce declining?
Divorce is not something that we particularly wish upon people. It is not just the couple who are affected. They often end up with a painful and fragmented relationship before or during the divorce but so too can any children involved and to a lesser extent other family and friends who feel caught in the middle or have to choose a side.
It may be startling news, but there are several countries who are now reporting their rates of divorce declining.
Is Marriage Declining or Divorce Declining?
Surely any decline of something that revolves around broken relationships is a good thing. But is there really a decline in broken relationships or just divorce itself? Maybe the truth is that the idea of marriage has changed.
University of Melbourne sociologist Belinda Hewitt says, “Before the 1980s, most people were married by 25 and if you weren’t married by then, you were considered to be a spinster – especially if you were a woman.” But in Australia there has been a change in attitude – to a later age. Associate Professor Hewitt says that Australians are now experiencing the “everyone around me is married” moment about five years later than the previous generation.
According to figures from the 2011 census, for women in Australia, that age is 29; for men, it’s 32. A comprehensive report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare sums up this statistic and some others with their comments about this snapshot of 2011 Australia. Their report says that divorce rates are on the decline in Australia, people are marrying and having children later in life, and more of us live alone. Added to this we see that more Australians are better educated and there are more adults in the workforce.
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This has then played into why we are getting married later. There are more women who attend university and are part of the paid workforce. Attitudes about women and their role have also changed. All of this has contributed to a rising average age for first time marriages. Spinster has become a dirty word.
Still 50/50 Chance of Divorce in the United States
Over the last few years the divorce rate has also been falling in the United States and in 2016 was at its lowest in 35 years. But the decline in the divorce rate does not necessarily mean marriages are doing a whole lot better. Statistics don’t mean that one marriage is more likely to last than another. In fact, it seems that a typical marriage still has a 50/50 chance of going the distance, which hasn’t really changed over the last few decades. Many sociologists have this view.
The 7 year itch has become an 8.5 year itch in Australia. People who are divorcing are staying together longer before they end their relationship. So there is ‘slowing down’ of divorce as well as a reported decline. Some of these changing societal attitudes are likely contributors to the decline of divorce but so too is the fact that there are fewer marriages to break up in the first place.
The De Facto Phenomenon
People are choosing to co-habitate or to have a de-facto relationship and are eschewing the idea of getting married. But some experts also believe that co-habitation is having a positive effect on those who then go on to get married.
Associate Professor Hewitt says that co-habitation is contributing to the decline in divorce. “Marriages are actually more successful now … because a lot of the unstable relationships are getting sorted out in co-habitation. . . People are getting married older and they’re living together before they get married, so when people get married now their relationships are more solid. . . You’re not seeing many really early, really young marriages where neither of you really knows who you are or what you want.”
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So What’s the Truth About Rates of Divorce Declining?
What can we take from this as we’re thinking about our chances of surviving marriage or we’re lamenting our own divorce?
- Divorce may be on the decline, but it’s not just because some marriages are doing better. There are many factors to consider and each relationship is unique.
- Having a de-facto relationship does not exclude you from having a broken relationship but it means you won’t be included in divorce statistics.
- Knowing someone well before you get married is not a guarantee of a longer marriage but often a contributor to a longer-lasting marriage.
- Age and maturity can be a key factor in whether your marriage is likely to last or not.
- Statistics tell us that we have a 50/50 chance of staying married or getting divorced.
- We are not slaves to statistics – statistics should be our servant.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we are here to help. We understand that divorce can be very painful. We aim to make divorce as conflict-free as possible through mediation and collaboration. Our experienced family lawyers offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation. Please contact us today.