Divorce Statistics

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If there’s one thing that our country has, it’s an abundance of statistics. After all, governments have to track down their citizens, what they do, how much they make, how much they spend, how often they use social welfare benefits – and of course – how often they marry and how soon they divorce.

We’re not exactly sure if we should rely 100% on divorce statistics because while they reflect trends, these trends are, at best, a mirror of physical movement. By this we mean that we can keep records of divorce filings through lawyers’ offices and the court rooms and we can come up with a rough sketch of a person’s movements: his birth, his university records, his employment earnings, his marriage, the number of children he produces, and when he files for divorce and joint custody. All these movements are recorded in a national registry to which numbers are fed, usually from tax reports and social insurance numbers.

Divorce statistics, however, don’t paint a true picture of divorcing couples. Some details are inadvertently omitted. Sometimes they are the very details that can sufficiently draw a more accurate picture of the individual’s state of mind during and after a divorce.

And who’s minding the children? What happens to them? Millions of articles have been written about what happens to children after a divorce. Many of them are sad stories. A few end in tragedy. But for the divorcing couple and their children, we can’t possibly weave a complete story of their lives – or the destruction of their lives. Oh sure, we have newspaper accounts of deaths and suicides post-divorce, but unless we’ve been through a divorce ourselves, we don’t really know the full spectrum of human energies, motivations and desperation. We only read about them.

Divorce Statistics: Canada

Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert wrote a 24-page report published in the Vanier Institute’s Family’s Contemporary Trends series. Her first caveat is that we tend to depend on media reports which actually speak about the American landscape and then applied to the Canadian situation.

The first issue that Dr. Ambert clarifies is the divorce rate. The American divorce rate is 50%, ours stands at 44%. She argues that when statistics of this type

come out, the media takes them and reports the numbers out of context. They don’t necessarily understand the factors that influence the rates.

Still, Canadian couples do have a high divorce rate. Note that there are about 37 million Canadians versus 300 million Americans. The question therefore is: is 44% really lower, given our smaller population?

One study by Frederick and Hamel (also cited by Dr. Ambert) reveals that 31% of Canadians who married in 1991 will head for divorce courts if the 1991 divorce rate holds.

Why 1991? No reason was given. But from the evidence, Canadians are progressively divorcing.

Take a look at some statistics (figures are from Statistics Canada and reported by Dr. Ambert):

Year Number of divorces

1961 6,563
1981 67,671
1987 96,200
1995 77,636

Statistics Canada reports that the peak year for the number of divorces was 1987 but that number has stabilized. Whether the rates will go up again will depend on changing Canadian lifestyle habits and value systems.

Next question: when do Canadian couples divorce? Statistics Canada says that the highest rate of divorce occurs during the fifth year of marriage. By age 60, the report continues, divorce becomes a rare statistic. The most susceptible “divorce age” is among people in their late twenties.

Canadian remarriage rates turned out to be an eye-opener. These numbers explain why:

Sex Remarriage

Males: 75%

Females: 65%

Age

  • Males, 35-50 years old 61%
  • Females, 35-50 years old 48%
  • Males, 25-35 years old 80%
  • Females, 25-35 years old 66%

What do these numbers tell us? Age is a significant factor for remarrying. For women who are divorced, the older they are, the less chances they have of remarrying. It is different with men.

Divorce Statistics: USA

In an earlier article, Can A Marriage Work These Days?, we provided statistics on American divorce rates and we’ll just do a recap here of the more relevant numbers:

Number of married couples in 2000 56.4 million

Number of people who are divorced in 2000

  • 8.5 million (males)
  • 11.3 million (females)

Number of people who were separated in 2000

  • 1.8 million (males)
  • 2.6 million (females)

We’d like to deviate from the standard quantitative reporting approach and take a more qualitative view of divorce. Divorce Magazine (US) conducted a poll on the subject of divorce and although the number of votes received do not in any way provide a representative sample of the population because not many people answered the survey, it will give you an idea of the “forces” that were in play at the time of their divorce and shortly after.

On the question of who initiated the divorce (2000 survey), more women (106 votes) than men (80 votes) initiated proceedings.

As to whether the divorce was ugly, friendly, or just OK (end of survey 2000):

  • Ugly 134 votes
  • OK 101
  • Friendly 33

After they experienced the divorce, would respondents still have gone ahead with it?

  • Female, it was the right decision 115 votes
  • Female, it was the wrong decision 29 votes
  • Male, it was the right decision 60 votes
  • Male, it was the wrong decision 44 votes

When asked their opinion about what specific area of divorce law needs to be changed, these were the answers received:

  • Child custody 86 votes
  • Grounds for divorce 78 votes
  • Child support 67 votes
  • Spousal support 46 votes
  • Distribution of property 32 votes

On the question of what was the most negative thing about being divorced or separated, majority of the respondents answered “loneliness.” Some cited financial insecurity, loss of self-esteem and decreased contact with children. Surprisingly, for the category “nothing’s negative – it’s great to be single again”, it received zero votes.

We were under the impression that money problems constituted the # 1 reason for divorce, but the survey revealed that in fact, infidelity ranked # 1, followed by communication problems, incompatibility, emotional and physical abuse, money and alcoholism.

Divorce Statistics - How NOT to be Part of Them!

We have our lucky stars to thank for those innovative and creative thinkers who devised the most clever ways for people in shaky marriages to stay away from the courts as much as possible. Whoever came up with the idea of marriage retreats, marriage counseling and therapy and religious guidance have to be given credit for saving not only a marriage, but also the lives of people and their children.

Many people still believe in the “for life” notion of marriage – till death do us part. What God has put together let no man put asunder. We have to take off our hats to those warring couples who give their marriage one last shot no matter how bitter their fights are. When individuals are willing to try, that’s when miracles happen.

A saved marriage is a beautiful miracle. The best on earth. When two people decide to save their marriage, it means they haven’t lost faith in themselves and in society. The ties that bind is probably one of the most eloquent phrases in the English language.

Po Bronson takes frequent trips so he can write about people. He has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and has written five books and two novels. He takes long journeys so he can find answers to life’s biggest questions. In his book, Why do I Love These People (Random House, 2005), he tells us a story about how one family weathers a crisis – divorce. It behooves us why it takes a crisis to discover the person inside us. It’s one of life’s ironies.

Po Bronson writes –

“There’s a phase where it feels like they are all trapped in a school bus without any brakes careening down a windy road. They seek professional help. They seek religious guidance. They try some brutal honesty to get things out. Then there’s a phase where small moments of jeopardy are rescued by random kindness – which feels like the universe is looking out for you. The family tries some constructive behavior modification (they hold their tongues). They start to see the problem from one another’s perspectives, which leads to a first attempt at forgiveness…One day they will be grateful for how this crisis has made them better people.” (p. 281). 

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