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Marriage rates for the unmarried population (per 1,000 not currently married men or women aged 15 years and over) have also fallen over time. This long-term downward trend has been evident since these rates first became available in 1976. The marriage rate for men was 63 per 1,000 in 1976 while the rate for women was 61 per 1,000. In 2000 these rates fell to 34 and 32, respectively.
Recent trends show that Australians are marrying later. The median ages of brides and bridegrooms at first marriage have increased from 21.1 and 23.4 years respectively in 1971 to 26.9 and 28.7 years in 2001 (graph 5.36). Part of this increase can be attributed to the increasing incidence of de facto marriages. Another factor is that young people are staying in education longer.
In 2001, 66% of marriages had a groom older than the bride, and 23% of brides were older than grooms. However, there was a strong tendency for couples to be about the same age, with 45% of couples being within two years of each other, and only 10% being 10 or more years apart in age (graph 5.37).
Table 5.38 brings together summary measures of marriages for census years between 1901 and 1991, and individual years between 1992 and 2001.
De facto relationships
Between 1992 and 1997, the number of people in de facto relationships rose by 6.4% from 710,800 to 756,500 people. In 1997, de facto partners represented 9.1% of all persons living in couple relationships (up from 8.5% in 1992) and 5.3% of persons aged 15 years and over (the same as in 1992). The proportion in de facto relationships peaked among people aged 25-29. It was also high in the adjacent age groups and then fell away to lower levels with increasing age (graph 5.39). Of all de facto partners in 1997, 56% were aged 20-34.
De facto partnering has arisen as an alternative living arrangement prior to, or instead of marriage, and following separation, divorce or widowhood. Some couple relationships, such as that between a boyfriend and girlfriend who live together but do not consider their relationship to be marriage-like, are classified as de facto.
Of all people in de facto relationships in 1997, 69% had never been in a registered marriage, and 29% were either separated or divorced. The likelihood of being never married was higher among those aged under 35, counterbalanced by higher proportions of separated and divorced de facto partners aged 35 and over (graph 5.40). In 1997, 46% of de facto couples had children, compared with 39% in 1992.
For most of the 20th century there was a slow but steady rise in the divorce rate, increasing from annual averages of 0.1 divorces per 1,000 population between 1901 and 1910 to 0.8 per 1,000 between 1961 and 1970. However, the most important factor involved in the higher divorce rates in the latter quarter of the century was the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cwlth) which came into operation on 5 January 1976. This legislation allows only one ground for divorce: irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, measured as the separation of the spouses for at least one year. Following the implementation of this law, there was a large increase in the divorce rate in 1976. The rate then declined until 1979 as the backlog of applications was cleared. Since then the crude divorce rate has fluctuated between 2.4 and 2.9 divorces per 1,000 population (graph 5.41). The crude divorce rate in 2001 was 2.8 per 1,000 population. The pattern of divorces per 1,000 married couples is very similar; in 2000 there were 12.0 divorces per 1,000 married men or women.
Table 5.42 brings together summary measures of divorces granted in census years between 1901 and 1991, and individual years between 1992 and 2001.