BBC news and today’s papers (e.g. Telegraph, Times, Express, etc) all point to the recession as the reason behind the tiny 0.5% rise in divorce in 2012. Only the Telegraph, prompted by our own comment, put some balance in a later version.
Leading divorce lawyer Marilyn Stowe, a lady I admire tremendously as a great champion of the underdog, is much quoted:
“Couples will struggle through times of adversity as best they can, but eventually find that despite their best efforts, they simply can’t go on any longer.”
But the recession gets blamed whether divorces go up or down. In releasing the 2012 divorce figures, even the Office for National Statistics gets in on the act highlighting the two contrary arguments.
“Divorce up on recession” happens because less money means life gets harder, there’s more to argue about, and relationships come under strain. For relationships that were struggling anyway, recession is the final straw.
“Divorce down on recession” happens because couples who were going to divorce anyway hold off because they either can’t afford to run two homes or realise low asset prices mean a less secure future for both of them.
I paraphrase. There’s something to both of these arguments. Counsellors and lawyers are the front line of divorce. So it’s right that their opinion should be sought.
But are they right? Are the people they see an accurate reflection of the country as a whole?
The answer appears to be no. Let’s look at the evidence.
Last year I looked at divorce rates in boom and bust years. You can read the report here.
Frankly it’s nigh on impossible to pick out any meaningful, significant or predictable trend either up or down in any year following economic boom or bust.
No matter how long couples have been married, there is almost never more than a 10% change in either direction from year to year. And in most years, you can get couples who have been married, say, 10 years doing slightly worse while couples who have been married, say, 12 years doing slightly better. And vice versa.
Statisticians would call this random noise.
So let’s have a look at the last few years to see if what happened post the 2008 and 2009 bust.
This chart shows the last four years. I’ve left off 2008 to make it easier to read (2008 showed little change on 2007).
As after previous busts, in none of these years is there ever much more than a 10% change in divorce in any direction.
- In 2009 (red) divorce rates were generally down a bit across the board.
- In 2010 (blue) divorce rates were generally up a bit across the board.
- In 2011 (green) and 2012 (yellow) there is very little change and no discernible pattern
If you’re going to link recession with divorce, you’ve got to make sense of the 2009 decrease and 2010 increase. This is where both arguments will claim they have a point.
Alas, looking back at the 1991 bust, there was no similar pattern of drop then rise. If anything 1993 was fractionally up and 1994 fractionally down. The pattern, if there is one, was opposite.
Linking recession with divorce will always be a great story for the media. Lots of quotes. People will always report what they see, even if their experience doesn’t match the overall picture.
Only problem? There’s no link.