What’s behind the growing number of divorces?

Divorce is on the rise, but why?

As you stand at the altar on your wedding day, the thought of being divorced from that person is unfathomable. But for 30 per cent of couples marrying their first partner, their marriage will end in divorce. Furthermore, over 50 per cent of divorces occur after just seven years together. 

With divorce consistently on the rise, invaluable insights arise from the data.

Grey divorce is on the rise

One of the biggest emerging divorce phenomena is the percentage of older couples headed for divorce. Since the 1980s, couples aged over 50 have increasingly represented a substantial proportion of the yearly divorce rate. This has colloquially come to be known as ‘grey divorce’.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, couples who had been married for over 20 years made up one quarter of the 56,244 divorces in 2021.

“This is a time where people are thinking they might want to travel more and do other things they’ve wanted to for a long time,” explains Dr Raquel Peel. “It becomes a time in their life when they want change, and that’s why we’ve seen this trend emerge.”

How many marriages end in divorce?
Older couples divorcing accounted for a quarter of all divorces in 2021. (Credit: Getty)

“Expectations of relationships are also ever-changing, so at a certain point in life, they might find themselves reassessing their romantic choices.”

Dr Raquel also adds that children moving out of home can also contribute to older couples reassessing their marriages.

“Similarly to COVID, when couples become empty nesters they may be ‘alone’ for the first time in decades and that is a readjustment.”

An unexpected spike in divorces

As well as couples over 50 separating en masse, divorce is generally on an upward trend. In fact, there was an anomaly in divorce statistics when in 2021 56,244 divorces were recorded. Though this was up 13.6 per cent from the year prior, the ABS tentatively attributed the phenomenon to the courts clearing a backlog of applications.

But this isn’t entirely to blame. The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdowns forced people to re-evaluate many aspects of their lives – including their marriage.

Spending time at home during the COVID lockdowns caused record divorces in 2021.

“We can attribute that spike in divorces to a change in dynamic and having to reassess what’s important to us in life, which COVID forced us to do. It also caused us to reassess our routine. 

We spent more time with someone at home and that meant that some people didn’t find happiness in that.”

The seven year itch

The seven year itch isn’t just a classic film, it’s a real psychological theory that says that relationships are put to the test at the seven year mark.

This theory is legitimised when you look at Australian divorce statistics which shows that since the 1980s, 50 per cent of couples divorce right around the seven year point of their relationship.

“Seven years is when couples start to face tough decisions on whether to stick together or split –  a lot of couples tend to divorce around the seven year mark because of this.”

“It may be a time where they’re considering children, or they’ve already had children, buying their first home or tackling a mortgage and even changes in career, all of which put incredible strains on relationships.”

The Seven Year Itch’ isn’t just a Marilyn Monroe film, it’s a psychological theory that says couples face the most adversity in their seventh year together. (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

How many marriages end in divorce?

Statistically, 30 per cent of first-time marriages end in divorce. However, that doesn’t mean divorce is inevitable and unavoidable. 

“I don’t believe divorce is inevitable,” Dr Raquel says. “Therapy can do wonders for relationships and I actually believe that most couples (though there are always exceptions) can work on most issues.”

“Some relationship counsellors will often say that some issues can be unresolvable, but that’s actually okay. If we come from the perspective that we can’t resolve every issue but we can learn to live with them, I think that’s a positive step to ensuring a long-term marriage.”

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