Over the past 50 years, exactly one third of marriages have ended in divorce. We've analysed Office for National statistics data to find out how divorce rates have changed over the past 20 years and how they vary by age group. Read on to find out the average age of men and women when they get divorced, and the worst years to have gotten married according to divorce stats. To read about how much a divorce will cost, see our article on the average cost of a divorce.
- What proportion of marriages end in divorce?
- How many divorces are there each year?
- How have divorce rates changed for young people?
- How old are men and women when they get divorced?
- Why do couples get divorced?
- Household wealth stats after divorce
The average overall divorce rate in England and Wales is 31.8%, based on all marriages over the past 50+ years between 1964 to 2019. However, the rate changes according to how many years a couple has been together.
For example, of couples who married 50 years ago in 1968, 35.3% had ended in divorce by 2018. In contrast, 43.6% of those marrying in 1988 had divorced by 2018. And 18.9% of couples married in 2008 had divorced within the first ten years by 2018. (This is down from 20% the year before, so younger couples seem to be more likely to stay together now.)
|Cumulative Divorce Rates||2018|
|50 years of marriage||35.3%|
|40 years of marriage||42%|
|30 years of marriage||43.6%|
|20 years of marriage||36.5%|
|10 years of marriage||18.9%|
Changing Divorce Rates
The divorce rate has certainly changed over the years, especially for longer marriages. The chart below shows how divorce rates for those married 10, 20 and 30 years has changed over the past 30 years. As you can see, there's been an improvement in the proportion of marriages failing by 10 years (now below 20%), but there's a much higher proportion of marriages failing by 30 years (32.7% in 1998 vs. 43.6% in 2018).
Number of Divorces
In 2020, there were 103,592 divorces in England and Wales—102,438 were opposite-sex divorces and 1,154 were of same-sex couples. This is a decrease of 37% since 1993, the year with the largest number of divorces, when a whopping 165,018 marriages ended by divorce.
|Stats on Number of Divorces|
|Year with the most divorces||1993 (165,018 divorces)|
|Number of divorces 2020||103,592 (102,438 opposite sex, 1,154 same sex)|
|Percentage drop in divorces from 1995 to 2020 (25 years)||33.4%|
However, that's not the whole story. While the number of divorces has been steadily dropping, so has the number of couples getting married. So it's not necessarily the case that couples are getting better at staying together. The year with the highest number of marriages was 1972, when 426,241 couples said, "I do." By 2019, that number had dropped to 219,850—a decrease of 48%.
Divorce Rates by Age
Divorce rates for young people in particular have dropped since 1993, the year with the highest number of divorces in England and Wales. Around 3% of couples under the age of 35 ended in divorce during 1993—in the year 2019 this number had dropped to around 1%.
|Proportion of marriages ending in divorce in 1993 vs. 2019, by age||1993||2019|
|20 to 24||3.1%||1.0%|
|25 to 29||3.3%||1.2%|
|30 to 34||2.9%||1.2%|
|35 to 39||2.4%||1.2%|
|40 to 44||1.8%||1.3%|
|45 to 49||1.3%||1.3%|
|50 to 54||0.9%||1.0%|
|55 to 59||0.5%||0.7%|
|60 and over||0.1%||0.2%|
Number of Divorces by Age
The average age for divorce is 46.4 for men and 43.9 for women. Similarly, those age 45 to 49 years old have the most divorces.
|Number of Divorces by Age, 2019||Men||Women|
|20 to 24||129||413|
|25 to 29||1,976||3,470|
|30 to 34||6,284||8,169|
|35 to 39||9,264||10,571|
|40 to 44||9,671||10,241|
|45 to 49||11,169||10,946|
|50 to 54||10,523||9,608|
|55 to 59||7,654||6,118|
|60 and over||8,322||5,568|
Divorces by Previously Divorced People
A look at opposite-sex divorces shows that in 2019, 7 in 10 divorces were among couples where neither party was previously divorced. In around 1 in 4 divorces, either the man or woman had divorced before. And in 6% of divorces, both people had previously divorced.
|Divorces among the previously divorced|
|Only Husband was previously divorced||12,849||11.9%|
|Only Wife was previously divorced||12,510||11.6%|
|Both husband and wife were previously divorced||6,196||5.8%|
|Neither husband nor wife previously divorced||76,044||70.7%|
|Total opposite-sex divorces||107,599||100%|
Causes of Divorce
Unreasonable behaviour is the most common cause of divorce in England and Wales, accounting for nearly half of all divorces. In 2019, 46.5% of divorces were caused by unreasonable behaviour. The second most common reason that couples divorce is after a 2 year separation with consent. Adultery was the cause of 10.5% of divorces.
|Cause of Divorce in England and Wales||Percent of Divorces|
|2 year Separation with consent||26.7%|
|5 year Separation (no consent)||15.4%|
|Combo (adultery and unreasonable behaviour)||0.5%|
Worst Marriage Years for Divorces?
Couples who tied the knot in 1987 have the highest cumulative divorce rate, with 44% of these marriages ending in divorce by 2017. However it's not a surprise that the cumulative divorce rate is lower for more recent marriage years, as they've had fewer years of accumulated divorces. Since the cumulative rate so far has peaked for those married in 1987, it's safe to say that the worst year to get married was 1987—if you married before 1988.
Another way to measure the worst year for marriages is looking at the average annual divorce rate for each marriage year. This measure is calculated by dividing the cumulative divorce rates in the chart above by the number of years of marriage that have passed. By this measure, those married in 2003 and 2004 have had the highest average divorce rate per year—with 1.97% of people married in 2004, '05 and '06 divorcing each year since their nuptials. So while 1987 first looks like the worst year to get married, it seems that the cumulative divorce rate for those married in '04, '05 and '06 will catch up and perhaps surpass the rate for those married in 1987 given more time.
Fewer couples divorce in the early years, which is why the chart tails off abruptly for recent marriages.
Household Wealth After Divorce
Of course, when one household splits into two households after a divorce and assets have been divided somehow, the two new divorced households each have less wealth than the combined married household did. No surprise then that divorced households are more likely to have less money, and less likely to have more money. But what do the stats really look like?
We dug into data from the Wealth and Assets Survey (ONS) to find out. On the lower side of wealth, we found that only 12% of married households have less than £85,000 of total household wealth, but 36.5% of divorced households are in this lower wealth band. In contrast, 50.5% of married households have more than £500,000 of total wealth, but only 26.5% of divorced households have this much.
Wealth of Men vs Women After Divorce
While divorces in the UK typically aim for a 50/50 split, the data shows that divorced men generally have more wealth than divorced women. This could be due to a number of factors, from pensions not being included in divorce assets to the fact that men might earn more after the divorce than women. Women are more likely to have taken a career break or work part time in order to care for children, which not only affects their pension savings during the marriage but also impacts the ability to earn at the same rate as their husbands after the divorce.
As you can see in the table and chart below, divorced women have less wealth overall than divorced men. The table shows the median wealth for divorced people—the 'median' represents the midpoint, that is, half of people have less and half of people have more. The median wealth for divorced women is somewhere between £85,000 and £200,000. The median wealth for divorced men is between £200,000 and £300,000.
|Median Household Wealth of Divorced People||Lower End of Range||Upper End of Range|
The final chart below provides a bit more insight into these figures. As you can see circled in red, divorced woman are noticeably more likely to have wealth in the £20,000 to £85,000 range. In contrast, divorced men are noticeably more likely to have wealth of £1 million or more.