3310.0 - Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/08/1998   
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August 26, 1998
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)
Marriage rates steady but divorce trends and defactos rise - ABS

In 1997, for the second successive year, Australia recorded its lowest marriage rate this century, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Divorce rates have continued to increase, along with the number of defacto couples.

In 1996 and 1997, the marriage rate (the number of marriages per 1,000 population) was 5.8, compared to 7.4 twenty years ago and 7.0 ten years ago.

It is estimated that about 56 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women will marry at some time in their lives. This represents a decline of 19 per cent for men and 16 per cent for women from comparable estimates prepared for 1977 (about 69 per cent for both men and women).

The total number of marriages registered in Australia was 106,700 in 1997 and 106,100 in 1996 compared to 114,100 ten years ago. However, the fall in registered marriages does not necessarily mean that couple relationships are decreasing. Many people are choosing instead to enter into de facto relationships.

The 1996 Census of Population and Housing showed that 7.6 million men and women were living as partners in couple relationships and that 10 per cent of these were de facto relationships. At the 1991 Census, people in couple relationships numbered 7.2 million and just over 8 per cent were in de facto relationships.

Based on the 1996 Census it is estimated that at least 11 per cent of the never married population were living as de facto partners while at least 20 per cent of the divorced population had re-partnered and were living in de facto relationships.

The fall in marriage rates since the early 1970s has been accompanied by a rise in the proportion of people cohabiting prior to marriage. In 1977 around 25 per cent of all registered marriages were preceded by a period of cohabitation; this proportion reached 42 per cent by 1987 and 65 per cent by 1997.

The median age at marriage for men and women continued to increase in 1997. In 1997 the median age at marriage was 29.7 years for men and 27.5 years for women, compared with 27.6 years and 25.2 years, respectively, in 1987. Those marrying for the first time in 1997 were also older.

In 1997 there were 51,300 divorces granted compared with 39,700 in 1987. On a long-term trend basis, divorce rates have been on the increase. In 1997, just under 13 out of every 1,000 marriages ended in divorce, compared to the estimate for 1987 of 11 divorces out of every 1,000 marriages. However, the 51,300 divorces granted in 1997 represented a two per cent decline over the number granted in 1996.

The median age at divorce for both men and women continued to rise in 1997. The median age at divorce was 40.3 years for men and 37.6 years for women. Between 1987 and 1997 the number of divorces granted where children were involved fell. In 1987, 59 per cent of divorces involved children under 18 years of age. By 1997 this proportion was 54 per cent.

Full details are in Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997 (cat. no. 3310.0).