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Marriage, Divorce and the Triumph of hope?

Date:29 JAN 2010

Article by Penny Booth

So - divorce rates have fallen (fifth year in a row) to an all-time low (well for the last 33 years, at least) at around 121,800 in 2008, a drop of about five per cent. The peak was in 2003 with 153,000 or so. Is staying married more popular? Is the undoubted misery of most divorces and the fallout just too much to bear? Are fewer getting married so that the number 'available' to divorce is lower - certainly the figures for the number of marriages seems to suggest so.

One factor may be that people get married later, hopefully knowing more about their partner (and themselves) so expectations and 'targets' for a happy life together are more realistic. I wrote that with a straight face.

It seems that the 'danger' ages for divorce are 25-29 (don't worry, your age, not the marriage) and men over 60 and women aged 50-59, or so the Office of National Statistics figures seem to show. It may be that the younger you are the more fear of the future hits with the realisation of a 'bad choice' in life-mate; yet the older you are, the prospect of retirement in a less-than-happy marriage ensures the remnants of the marriage hit the bumpers and divorce follows. Of course, the figures do not reveal the numbers in cohabitation breakdown and no figures can tell the story of the misery of ending, or staying in, a relationship that is not successful.

If one of the factors affecting the lowering of the divorce rate is that couples are marrying later because they wish to feel more financially 'secure' before they commit to marriage then that figure is probably going to grow as a result of the numbers of young people whose financial security is diminished or held-off long-term because of student / qualification debt; for some, the prospect of financial security in the current economic climate must seem a long way away. Still, look on the bright side: if you don't get married, there is no problem in meeting the (financial) cost of divorce. The prospect of young people being disillusioned with marriage and the picture of hope in happy families before they even get started is worrying.

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.