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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Divorce rate 'lowest for 22 years'
Twenty five to 29-year-olds were most likely to divorce
The divorce rate in England and Wales has plummeted to its lowest level since 1979, according to government figures.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released on Tuesday showed the number of divorces granted dropped by 2.4% over 12 months, from 144,135 in 1999 to 141,135 in 2000.

The figures indicate that younger couples - those aged between 25 and 29 - are the most likely to split up.

People are marrying later in life so perhaps are more aware of what they want from marriage


Marriage guidance groups say they are encouraged by the findings, while sceptics say the drop is merely a result of less people getting married in the first place.

The ONS said the rate in England and Wales fell to 12.7 divorcing people per 1,000 married population last year - the lowest since 1984 - and compares with 13 divorcing people per 1,000 married people in 1999.

The number of under-16s affected by their parents divorcing also fell from 147,721 in 1999 to 142,457 - a quarter of whom were aged under five - in 2000.

Divorce drop
Divorces - 144,556 (99) to 141,135 (2000)
Married people divorced 1.3% (99) to 1.27% (2000)

The ONS said the proportion of failed marriages for couples both wed for the first time also dropped to 70% last year, compared to a level of 82% in 1981.

Twenty-five to 29-year-olds were the most likely to divorce last year, with 2.9% of married women and 2.7% of married men in that age group untying the knot, according to the ONS.

But the average age at divorce continues to rise, from 40.9 for men and 38.4 for women in 1999 up to 41.3 and 38.8 respectively in 2000.

'Period of stability'

Counsellor for marriage guidance group Relate, Denise Knowles, said: "People are marrying later in life so perhaps are more aware of what they want from marriage."

Woman with child
The number of under-16s affected by their parents divorcing has fallen

She added: "We have had a period of stability where people are able to have time to explore why things are not working and appear more willing to talk about their problems."

But divorce lawyer Mark Harper, who works for City law firm Withers, said: "The number of people getting married appears to continue to decline, this may be the reason why fewer people are getting divorced.

"In 1971, 404,000 people got married and 74,000 got divorced.

"This compares to 263,000 marriages in 1999 and 144,000 divorces."

"The wider implications of fewer people getting married are that there are more and more people co-habiting, yet these people have no legal rights and no protection."

But Family and Youth Concern director Robert Whelan described the figures as "misleading", adding there were signs that the family unit was in "a very serious situation".

He said: "These statistics only show that marriage is more stable but is only part of the wider picture that shows marriage is a lesser part of our society.

"We think 'good, divorce is down' when we see this, but the proportion of the population who are married is down.

"The family is the most important institution of the society and it's the principal means of transmitting culture from one generation to the next."

The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"The rate is the lowest for twenty years"
See also:

21 Aug 01 | Scotland
Divorce 'becoming less bitter'
11 Jul 01 | Health
Genes 'determine divorce risk'
21 Jun 01 | Scotland
Civil marriages ring the changes
20 Jul 00 | Scotland
Hatch, match and dispatch
16 Mar 00 | Education
Sex education will emphasise marriage
20 Jan 00 | Talking Point
Has the family changed forever?
01 Dec 99 | UK
Divorce change dropped
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