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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1995  
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Contents >> Family >> Family Formation: Trends in marriage and divorce

Family Formation: Trends in marriage and divorce

The crude marriage rate in Australia is at its lowest since the Great Depression. However, up to 60% of married people can expect to stay married to the same person until one partner dies1.

Over the last 20 years marriage rates have fallen and age at first marriage has increased. In contrast divorce rates rose in the 1970s and stabilised in the 1980s. These trends represent important social change, particularly for family life, and have affected the size and composition of families and households in Australia (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Changes in living arrangements).


Marriage and marriage rates

Under the Australian Marriage Act 1961, registered marriages may be celebrated by a minister of religion registered as an authorised celebrant, by a district registrar, or by other persons authorised by the Attorney General. In 1973 the minimum age a person may marry without parental consent was set at 18 years. In 1991 the Act was amended so that nobody could marry under the age of 16 years and between the ages of 16 and 18 years, a person could only marry with the consent of their parent or guardian and an order from a judge or magistrate. Any two persons under the age of 18 years may not marry each other.

The ABS collects de facto marriage from couples who identify themselves as de facto partners in a relationship question.

The crude marriage rate is the number of marriages in a year per 1,000 of the mean estimated resident population in the same year. The age-specific marriage rate is the number of men or women who married in each age group, per 1,000 of all men or women in the same age group. Marital status specific marriage rates are the number of men or women in each marital status group who married, per 1,000 of all men or women in that marital status group. Both age and marital status specific rates are only available separately for each sex.

The crude divorce rate is the number of divorces in a year per 1,000 of the mean estimated resident population in the same year.


Marriage trends
The crude marriage rate in Australia has fluctuated since it was first recorded in the 1860s. Broadly, the crude marriage rate has followed the pattern of prevailing economic and social conditions. It has fallen in times of depression or recession, e.g in the 1890s and 1930s, and increased in times of prosperity such as the gold rush in the 1860s and the immediate post-war years of the early 1920s and late 1940s. Marriage rates have also generally increased during times of war. The lowest recorded crude marriage rate was 6 marriages per 1,000 of the population in 1931 and the highest was 12 per 1,000 of the population in 1942.

Since 1970 the crude marriage rate has declined. This is partly the result of economic downturn. In addition, rapid social change, such as changes in divorce laws and changes in attitudes to marriage and living arrangements, have had considerable effects on the marriage choices of all Australians.

De facto relationships have gained greater social acceptance in the last 15 years. They may lead to people entering registered marriage later in life, as people may participate in one or more de facto relationships before marrying. However, some people will never officially marry, preferring instead to live in a de facto relationship.

The ageing of the population also has an effect on crude marriage rates because of increased proportions of the population in older age groups who are already married or who are less inclined to remarry. The ageing of the population has been responsible for some of the decrease in the crude marriage rate.

CRUDE MARRIAGE RATE



Source: Marriage Registrations


International comparison
The decline in the crude marriage rate in Australia is similar to other countries. In Canada, marriage rates have been dropping since 1973. In some countries, such as those in Scandinavia, the drop was evident from the 1960s. In 1993, Sweden had one of the lowest crude marriage rates in the world while the USA had one of the highest. However, it has also experienced decline since the 1970s.

CRUDE MARRIAGE RATES, SELECTED COUNTRIES

1975
1981
1987
1993
rate
rate
rate
rate

Australia
7.5
7.6
7.0
6.4
Canada
8.7
7.8
7.1
5.8(a)
France
7.3
5.8
4.8
4.7(a)
Greece
8.5
7.3
6.3
5.9
Ireland
6.7
6.0
5.1
4.5
Italy
6.7
5.6
5.3
4.8
Japan
8.4
6.6
5.7
6.4
New Zealand
8.0
7.6
7.5
6.4
Sweden
5.4
4.6
4.9
3.8
United Kingdom
7.7
7.5
7.0
6.1(a)
USA
10.0
10.6
9.9
9.0

(a) Marriage rates for 1992.

Source: United Nations Monthly Bulletin of Statistic

Age at marriage
In 1993, for all marriages, the median age of brides was 26 years while the median age of grooms was 29 years. For first marriages only, the median age at marriage was 25 years for women and 27 years for men. Both brides and grooms are older now than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.

Factors contributing to older ages at first marriage include a later age leaving school or education, and the increased incidence of de facto relationships. The recessions in 1982-83 and 1989-90 may also have contributed since unstable employment prospects and lack of financial security may have caused couples to defer marriage.

Because of the increase in divorces, there are now a larger number of divorcees than before 1976, when the Family Law Act 1975 came into effect. This has led to a larger proportion of marriages being remarriages for one or both partners. Since people who remarry are older than those who marry for the first time, this is also a contributing factor to higher median age for all marriages.

Traditionally, grooms have been older than their brides. However the difference between the median ages at marriage is slowly narrowing. In 1993 the difference between the median ages of brides and grooms was 2.4 years compared to 2.7 years in 1966 and 3.1 years in the period 1921-25.

For first marriages, the age difference between women and men has decreased from 2.6 years in 1966 to 2.2 years in 1993. Although both men and women are marrying at older ages than before, women in particular are delaying marriage compared to their counterparts in earlier generations.


MEDIAN AGE OF BRIDES AND GROOMS



Source: Marriage Registrations


First marriages

Like the crude marriage rate, the first marriage rate fell between 1966 and 1993. A fall occurred in all age groups for both men and women. In particular the teenage marriage rate declined significantly.


In 1966 the first marriage rate for men aged 19 or less was 14.9. In 1993 this had fallen to 1.4. For women the change was even more dramatic. The rate fell between 1966 and 1993 from 61.5 to 7.4. Changing social attitudes to lone parenting and the availability of contraception and abortion have contributed to fewer teenage marriages.


Other factors which generally affect first marriage rates include the increasing acceptance of de facto partnering, increased higher education opportunities for men and women, increased work and career opportunities for women, and decreases in housing affordability.

AGE-SPECIFIC FIRST MARRIAGE RATES

Men
Women


Age group
1966
1976
1986
1993
1966
1976
1986
1993
(years)
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate

19 and under
14.9
9.9
2.4
1.4
61.5
49.0
15.2
7.4
20-24
152.8
122.6
63.4
40.5
272.0
187.5
112.0
73.7
25-29
195.7
135.9
105.0
90.4
183.9
138.8
120.2
105.9
30-34
100.3
81.8
77.6
72.3
90.8
86.5
74.0
69.8
35-39
48.6
45.9
42.7
42.0
45.0
49.8
39.8
35.6
40-44
27.9
25.5
22.2
21.9
24.9
26.3
22.9
17.8
45-49
15.7
15.7
13.4
12.1
15.9
15.5
12.8
9.8
50 and over
5.8
6.4
4.6
4.0
3.6
3.9
2.1
2.3


Source: Marriage Registrations


Divorce trends

Not all family dissolutions are registered as divorces. Some married couples separate but never divorce. As de facto relationships are unregistered, their breakdown is also unregistered. Consequently the extent of family dissolution is not easily measured but can be expected to be higher than divorce rates show. In 1991 the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that over a thirty year period, 40% of all marriages end in divorce
1.

The trend in divorce in Australia changed with the introduction of the
Family Law Act 1975 which came into operation on 5 January 1976. It allowed only one ground for divorce, an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage, measured as the separation of the spouses for at least one year. This legal change resulted in a large increase in the crude divorce rate in 1976. The rate then declined until 1979 as the backlog of applications was cleared. Subsequently the rate has fluctuated with a slight increase evident since 1987. The divorce rate was consistently higher in the 1980s and early 1990s than at any time before 1975.
CRUDE DIVORCE RATE



Source: Divorce Registrations



Duration of marriages ending in divorce

In 1993 the median duration of marriages which ended in divorce was 10.7 years. This was higher than at any time since 1977. Despite divorce being possible after one year's separation, the median duration of marriage to separation in the late 1980s and early 1990s has been about 7 years (see
Family - National summary tables), indicating a delay of about 3 years between separation and the completion of divorce proceedings.

Of marriages which ended in divorce, first marriages tend to have lasted longer than subsequent marriages. For women and men who divorced from their first marriage in 1993, the median duration of their marriage was around 12 years. In comparison divorces of those who had been married more than once occurred a median of around 8 years after their marriage.

MEDIAN DURATION OF MARRIAGE TO DIVORCE



Source: Divorce Registrations


Children in divorce

The proportion of divorces involving children decreased steadily between 1983 and 1993, from 62% to 53% (see
Family - National summary tables). In 1993, 10 of every 1,000 children in Australia were involved in a divorce, a slight reduction from the 1983 figure of 12. These changes, coupled with the increase in the median age of mother at birth of first child in marriage (see Family - National summary tables), suggests that divorce is becoming more likely to occur before children are born.
CHILDREN(a) AND DIVORCE

1983
1988
1993
'000
'000
'000

Divorces
43.5
41.0
48.3
Divorces involving children
26.8
23.6
25.4
Children involved in divorce
52.1
44.4
48.1
rate
rate
rate
Children involved in divorce(b)
11.5
9.7
10.5


(a) Unmarried children of the marriage who were aged under 18 years at the time of the application for divorce.
(b) Rate per 1,000 children aged under 18 years.

Source: Divorce Registrations



Remarriage

Immediately following the introduction of the
Family Law Act 1975, remarriage rates increased in every age group but remarriage rates in the 1980s and 1990s declined from the highs of the late 1970s. In the 1980s remarriages accounted for around one-third of all marriages.

Men are more likely to remarry than women although the gap has narrowed. In 1966 widowed or divorced men were three times as likely as widowed or divorced women to remarry. In 1993 they were twice as likely. In 1993, 68 of every 1,000 divorced men, and 52 of every 1,000 divorced women, remarried. Similarly, 16 of every 1,000 widowed men remarried compared to 4 of every 1,000 widowed women. This reflects the ageing of the population, the longer life expectancy of women than men and the tendency for men to marry someone younger than themselves. In 1994, 84% of widowed people were aged 60 or more and one-third of these were aged 80 or more. Women 80 years or more outnumbered men 80 years or more by about 2 to 1.


Women tend to wait longer than men to remarry. In 1993 the median interval to remarriage for widowed women was 5.7 years compared to 4.0 years for men. Among divorced people the median intervals were 3.2 years for women and 2.8 years for men. These intervals have changed little in recent years.


The decline in the remarriage rate also reflects the increased likelihood of de facto relationships either as an alternative to remarriage or before remarriage. In 1992, 52% of people who were currently married after a previous divorce, had lived in a de facto relationship before the current marriage. This compares to 32% of people who married for the first time
2.

Previously divorced people, on average, also spent a longer period in de facto relationships than those who were in their first marriage. Of people who were in de facto relationships prior to their current marriage, 21% of those previously divorced spent less than 1 year living together compared to 30% of first time marrieds. De facto relationships of more than 5 years duration accounted for 8% of first marrieds who lived in such a relationship, compared to 16% of previously divorced persons.

MARITAL STATUS SPECIFIC REMARRIAGE RATES(a)

Men
Women


Widowed
Divorced
Total
Widowed
Divorced
Total
Year
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate

1966
26.1
130.5
53.1
7.1
109.9
17.3
1976
28.1
185.3
97.0
7.6
141.0
32.0
1986
20.5
96.6
69.6
5.4
72.3
27.5
1993
16.1
68.3
51.6
4.5
52.0
23.0


(a) Rate of remarriage per 1,000 of the marital status specific population.
Source: Marriage Registrations; Census of Population and Housing; Estimated Resident Population



Endnotes


1 Australian Institute of Family Studies (1993), 'Divorce Trends' in
Family Matters Issue no. 35.

2 Focus on Families: Demographics and Family Formation (cat. no. 4420.0).




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