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Divorce Rates in America and Other Western Countries E-mail
Next to comparable countries, both the recent marriage rate and annual divorce rate are higher in the United States. Whereas Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand each have a divorce rate of around 5 divorces per 1000 population, the raw divorce rate in the United States is more than 8 per thousand. These rates all seem much lower than the figures we're used to hearing, which highlights the importance of using caution when interpreting statistics: Numbers can be represented or misrepresented to suit completely contradictory agendas as an author sees fit, and it is only by careful examination of what the numbers actually mean that readers are able to spot bogus information.

The best way to avoid being misled by spuriously presented factoids and statistics is to go to the source. In the United States, statistics are collected and reports commissioned by the federal US Census Bureau, and at the state level by individual state government authorities. Unfortunately, this complicates the process for anyone trying to find recent, accurate data on US divorce rates or marriage rates. It can take several years for all the data collected in any audit to be collated with that from each of the other states into a single report that addresses the whole country. Consequentially, researching the statistics for the particular state you are interested in is generally easier and provides more precise data. All states maintain archives going back at least 20 years (some more than a hundred), which the public has a legal right to access, but exactly how much statistical analysis has been done (or is made available) varies greatly, and is something that you need to research on a state by state basis.

In the UK, information on marriages and divorce is much more easily obtained from the Office for National Statistics, much of which is made available at www.statistics.gov.uk. Surprisingly, the provisional divorce rate in England and Wales fell by 8 per cent to 13.0 divorcing people per 1,000 married population in 2005.

Divorce rates for men and women under 40 have fallen most steeply: by 13 per cent and 12 per cent respectively in 2005. For men aged under 40 the divorce rate of 24.9 divorcing men per 1,000 married men aged 16 to 39 is the lowest since 1988. Not since 1990 has the divorce rate for women aged under 40 been at this level: 24.7 divorcing women per 1,000 married women aged 16 to 39 in 2005. (Statistics.gov.uk)

In Australia, national demographics are analyzed and published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. While the Bureau charges for chartered research and for many of their products used by their corporate customers, fairly in-depth information concerning statistics about the general population is made available online.

Divorce Rates in Australia tell a different story:


Since 1981 divorce rates, while fluctuating, have shown an increasing trend; there were 55,300 divorces granted in Australia in 2001, the highest number granted in the last 20 years. This was an increase of 5,400 on the number of divorces granted in 2000 and an increase of 13,900 on 1981. 17% of couples had divorced within the first five years of marriage, while a further 26% had divorced in the following five-year period. The most common single interval between marriage and divorce was between five and six years (6%). In 2001 the median duration of marriage to divorce was 12 years, up from 10 years in 1981. (Abs.gov.au)

In Australia, just over 40% of marriages will end in divorce or legal separation. The median length of a marriage in Australia is a little over 10 years. Unlike many other developed nations, Australia's divorce rates have not undergone smooth, gradual changes, although they have been subject to the same general trends. With the passage of the new divorce laws in 1975 which brought in compulsory no-fault divorce, there was a massive jump in divorces in 1976. While this has dropped back gradually since then, there were spikes in divorce rates during the recessions of 1986 and 1991.

All industrialized nations have experienced similar trends with their marriage and divorce rate statistics in recent years. During the 20th Century, the divorce rate rose steadily until it peaked during the 1970s, which was marked by increasing social acceptance of divorce, and significant reform of divorce law in many countries. In some nations, the divorce rate is now sitting near a 30 year low, however, the total number of people marrying is also at or near similarly low levels. In most countries, people are marrying consistently later in life each year.

The current US divorce rate is approximately 50% of marriages. That is, about 1 in 2 marriages can be expected to end in divorce proceedings. Approximately 60% of the American population is married, and as many as half of these marriages will last at least 15 years. The median length of a marriage that ends in divorce in the United States is a little under 8 years. It is estimated that on average, it takes a full year between divorce proceedings beginning and the court granting the petition. Approximately 20 million Americans are currently divorced.

It is strange then, that the United Kingdom divorce rates are near a 20-year low (however, the actual numerical value has changed very little during the past 20 years). Similarly, fewer people are getting married to begin with in the UK compared to previous decades. Despite these trends, however, even the statistical change in divorce rates has been slight during this time. The contrast of the divorce rate per population against divorce rates per marriage is marked: By looking at one, an analyst could conclude that divorce is at a 20 year low. By looking at the other, divorce rates appear to be at an all-time high.

Here are additional resources you might be interested in:

Why is the Current Divorce Rate Increasing in America?

Is the Divorce Rate Increasing in the UK?

Most Recent Divorce Rates By Country

Factors Contributing to Increased Military Divorce Rates
 
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