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What percentage of marriages end in divorce?

There is always speculation about the percentage of marriages that end in divorce, but what are the statistics?

Latest statistics (published December 2012) estimate that 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. It is also estimated that:

  • 34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary.

  • An additional 6% of marriages are expected to end by the 20th wedding anniversary because one of the spouses has died.

  • Therefore 60% of marriages are expected to survive to the 20th anniversary.

  • 16% of marriages reach the 60th wedding anniversary.

  • The average marriage is expected to last for 32 years.

The graph below shows the percentage of marriages ending in divorce or because one partner has died, by each wedding anniversary.

Percentage of marriages ending in divorce or because one spouse has died, 2010, England and Wales

Percentage of marriages ending in divorce or because one spouse has died, 2010, England and Wales

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The percentage of marriages ending in divorce increases more rapidly in the first 10 years of marriage than the 10 years after that. Once the 20th wedding anniversary is reached, the percentage increases less rapidly.

Conversely, the percentage of marriages that end because one spouse has died increases less rapidly in the first 40 years of marriage than the 10 years after that. This is because people are more likely to die at older ages, so mortality has a bigger impact on those who have been married for a long time.

However, while 42% of all marriages are estimated to end eventually in divorce, other factors are likely to influence the likelihood of divorce for individuals, including:

  • length of marriage

  • year of marriage

  • age at marriage

  • whether married before

The impact of each of these factors is discussed in the following sections.

Chance of divorce is greatest between the 4th and 8th wedding anniversaries

Chance of divorce is greatest between the 4th and 8th wedding anniversaries

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The probability of getting divorced by the next wedding anniversary rises rapidly in the first five years of marriage, so that between the four and eighth wedding anniversaries the probability of getting divorced by the next anniversary is over 3%.

After the eighth wedding anniversary, the probability of divorcing decreases from this peak, and by the 26th anniversary, the chance of divorcing by the next anniversary is less than 1%.

Proportion of marriages ending in divorce has fallen in recent years

Proportion of marriages ending in divorce has fallen in recent years

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The percentage of marriages ending in divorce has generally increased for those marrying between the early 1970s and the early 1990s.

For example 22% of marriages in 1970 had ended by the 15th wedding anniversary, whereas 33% of marriages in 1995 had ended after the same period of time.

However for those marrying in the most recent years, since 2000, the percentage of marriages ending in divorce appears to be falling. This recent decrease may be related to the following two factors:

  • The age at which people first marry has been increasing, and previous research in Population Trends 131  (244.2 Kb Pdf) has shown that those marrying when they are older have a lower risk of divorce.

  • Cohabitation has increased in recent years. Research in Population Trends 145 (283.5 Kb Pdf) has shown that people often live together before getting married, and this may act to filter out weaker relationships from progressing to marriage.

The impact of age and marital status

Previous research indicates that those who marry younger are more likely to divorce. For example, of women who had not been married before and who married in 1976:

  • 53% had divorced by their 30th anniversary if they were less than 20 when they married

  • 23% had divorced by the same anniversary if they were aged 30 to 34 when they married, and

  • 7% had divorced if they were aged 45 to 49 when they married.

Further, widows and widowers have similar proportions of marriages ending in divorce to those who had not previously been married, whereas those who had previously divorced are more likely to divorce again.

For example, of men who married in 1976 when they were aged 30 to 34, 28% had divorced by their 30th anniversary if they had not been previously married or were widowers, compared with 40% of men who were divorced before remarrying.

All of the above factors, and others, contribute to the probability of your marriage ending in divorce.

 

If you have any comments or suggestions, we'd like to hear them. Please email us at: web.comments@ons.gsi.gov.uk

Categories: Population, Families, Marriages, Cohabitations, Civil Partnerships and Divorces, Divorces
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.