Divorce Rates and an Age Difference

Written by eric erickson
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Divorce Rates and an Age Difference
The institution of marriage continues to be threatened by high divorce rates in the United States and in Europe. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Although rising divorce rates have been lamented for decades, only recently has divorce been seen as a public concern that affects overall economic stability and health care costs, as well as loosely tied issues of juvenile crime and delinquency. Many factors have been attributed to rising divorce rates, including age differences in married couples. However, an exhaustive study of divorce rates compiled in the United Kingdom determined that while certain factors do appear to contribute to patterns of divorce, age difference does not seem to be a significant factor in whether a couple stays together.

Contributing Factors of Divorce

Economic factors appear to be closely tied with divorce rates. A Norwegian study conducted in 2005 reported an 11 per cent increase in divorce rates following a plant closing where many males lost employment, a figure that correlates with U.S. statistics, according to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Infidelity continues to be a major contributing factor as well, with infidelity rates rising among older husbands and among younger wives. These statistics, however, do not correlate with age difference among couples, as infidelity rates do not rise when older men marry younger women.

U.S. Divorce Rates

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the divorce rate in the United States rose dramatically, eventually peaking in the 1980s. The U.S. divorce rate has levelled off since then, even seeing a slight decline, while divorce rates in European countries continue to rise. The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center has relied heavily on the statistics gathered from Ben Wilson and Steve Smallwood's UK study, as their study was a comprehensive account of all statistics gathered between 1963 and 2005. Divorce statistics in the United States have been inadequately maintained over the same time period, forcing U.S. statisticians to rely on samples, trends and studies conducted abroad.

Trends in Age Difference

Rates of marriages following divorce have increased the rate of married couples with an age differential. The number of remarriages in the UK increased by more than 20 per cent between 1963 and 2003. The UK study showed that while marriages between older men and younger women were more predominant in 1963, overall numbers have increased, including the number of marriages between older women and younger men. Although divorce rates continue to rise in the UK, divorce rates among married couples with an age difference do not show a disproportionate increase.

Other Contributing Factors of Findings

The findings of the UK study dispute popular claims that age difference among married couples lead to increased divorce rates. A 1991 study in Canada, for instance, had claimed a direct correlation between divorce rates and age difference. The UK study has been the most exhaustive, using near-complete data over the sample period. The study notes that one cause for the lack of increase in divorce among couples with an age difference is the risk of mortality among older citizens. It could be possible, the study suggests, that some marriages end in death, affecting the overall divorce rate among the couples with an age difference.

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