From a young age men and women (but more especially women, really) are taught about the notion of the big day. We learn to aspire to the ideal of settling down with someone and saying I do. The indoctrination into the cult of marriage begins early, through the media and children’s fairy tales, and can often be at odds with the reality of the majority of adult relationships we see around us. Still, the aspiration for that “happy ever after” marriage remains ingrained into the fabric of most societies.
Statistically, the reality for many of us is that it may take quite a while to find Mr or Mrs Right: where once the notion of divorce was a hushed topic and a scandal, these days we are fortunate enough to be able to call quits on a relationship that isn’t working – we’re habitually signing breakup contingency agreements before we’ve even tied the knot! In the western world, divorce may be cause for at most some idle gossip among friends, but we have the freedom to leave and to continue our search for The One.
The UN’s Demographics and Social Statistics Division keeps track of the ratio of marriages to divorces in each country, and the stats demonstrate that certain nationalities are significantly more likely to get divorced than others. The social acceptance of divorce – including various religious and cultural conventions – in a nation may in part contribute to this, as indeed may the ease and expense with which a divorce may be carried out. While nations such as Jamaica, Colombia and Mexico all had comparatively low levels of divorce, some ostensibly traditional nations reported surprisingly high rates of divorce. We’ve taken a look at the nations where significantly more couples are getting divorced than staying together to see what it is that’s leaving so many marriages in pieces in these ten countries.
10. USA: 53%
The United States is one of the world’s countries with the best known statistics around marriage and divorce and the statistic that over half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce is well reported. Yet it is only number 10 on the list of the world’s most divorced nations, suggesting that all is not lost for the nation’s monogamists. With such a high population however, there are still an awful lot of marriage break-ups happening – one every six seconds, in fact. And, perhaps predictably, the more often you marry, the more likely you are to then divorce: 73% of third marriages in the United States end in divorce, with Nevada boasting the highest divorce rate of any state. Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon and Vermont also scored highly in splitsville, while the states with the lowest divorce rates were New York, Hawaii, New Jersey, North Dakota and Massachusetts.
9. France: 55%
France is just the first of several European nations making the top ten, suggesting that while the continent may appear – to the rest of the world – as the centre of romance, the reality is far from it. Paris may be the city of love, but not everyone, it seems, is happy there and the city has the highest divorce rate in all of France. While French society may be accepting of divorce, the high proportion of marriages that end in the country does pose questions about the wellbeing and happiness of the nation: in 2012 the French government thought it was worth being concerned about, and introduced a new initiative aimed at lowering the divorce rate in the country. Rural regions have considerable lower levels of divorce than their urban counterparts, with the northern region of Brittany reporting the lowest divorce rate.
8. Cuba: 56%
Perhaps a nation with such a radically unique form of government like that of Cuba was never going to have a traditional approach to anything – even marriage – but the reason for the high divorce rate in the nation may surprise. The country’s Communist form of government sees the State control a much broader range of services than many other nations. One such service is marriage and, as such, Cubans are entitled to apply to the government to have the costs of their wedding and honeymoon covered. With little to worry about other than actually finding a spouse, it’s no wonder so many are getting married. This laissez-faire approach to the wedding goes hand in hand with a casual approach to the institution of marriage and a high divorce rate. A new trend that’s emerging in the island nation, however, is a lack of interest in marriage: many couples are making the decision to commit to one another without any ceremony or legal agreements.
7. Estonia: 58%
The next of our European nations to make the list, Estonia sees almost six in ten marriages end in divorce. The nation is a former satellite state of the Soviet Union which has had legalised divorce for a long time, and as such it’s more or less accepted by society. As with Cuba, however, a newer trend showing a dramatic decrease in marriage levels has been the more significant talking point in the country. This trend – more and more common in countries with a high divorce rate – may be attributed to the high levels of divorce creating a society disillusioned with marriage. It should be pointed out that unlike several other nations, Estonia does not offer any tax breaks to married couples, only those cohabiting, meaning that there is no legal or logistical incentive for couples to marry.
6. Luxembourg: 60%
One of the smallest nations in Europe, Luxembourg lies sandwiched between Belgium, Germany and France, and has a population of just over half a million people. Luxembourg sees many travellers, expats and others pass through the country. Grounds for divorce in the country require that both parties are above the age of 21 and that they have been married for at least two years, although legal separations and annulments are also possible. As with other nations, the marriage rate in Luxembourg is falling, while those most likely to divorce in the country are between 40 and 49 years of age.
5. Spain: 61%
As a nation that has historically been known for its close ties to the Catholic Church, it may be surprising to see how common divorce has become in the nation (the Catholic Church still officially condemns divorce). Socially, Spain appears to be moving away from its religious heritage and since divorce was legalised in 1981, the figures for couples filing for it have been on the increase. Further relaxing of the grounds for divorce in 2007 has seen a significant increase in the number of marriages ending but the country’s Catholic past may again provide an answer: like many European nations, marriages rates in Spain have dropped, as too have attendance rates at church services. This indicates that Catholicism has become more of a cultural identity rather than a religious practice, so Spaniards have no qualms about moving towards a more secular approach. The financial troubles the country has suffered in recent years have also been cited as another reason for marriages in the country breaking down.
4. Czech Republic: 66%
The central European nation of the Czech Republic has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, and at one time the highest in Europe. Around 11% of all men and 13% of women in the country are divorced and, as such, the practice is destigmatised. Grounds for divorce in the country are fairly straightforward: a fundamental breakdown of relations between spouses must be proven for the courts to dissolve a marriage. In terms of the custody rights of divorced parents in the Czech Republic, however, the practices are arguably worrying: Well over 90% of women in the country are granted full custody of their children in the aftermath of a divorce and the arguments of rights groups for fathers in these situations remain largely ignored.
3. Hungary: 67%
For a long time now Hungary has had an enormously high level of marriages ending in divorce. Hungarian courts grant a divorce either by mutual consent or if proof is given that the marriage has irrevocably broken down. Marriage rates are dropping here, and it has been noted by the OECD that the numbers of cohabiting unmarried couples remain low. This suggests that many who wish to live together may marry before doing so, only to later realise that romantic bliss has eluded them. Just under 10% of all Hungarian men are divorced, while 12.4% of women in the nation have been previously married.
2. Portugal: 68%
Another unusual entry on our list, Portugal, like neighbouring Spain, is known for its traditionally Catholic heritage. However, the nation is not as tied to this background as you may think as divorce has been permitted in the country for over a century. When first introduced, divorce levels were low, numbering only a few hundred every year, but the figures have skyrocketed of late. At the same time, however, the marriage rates in the country remain high according to the OECD, suggesting that couples in Portugal remain firmly attached to the institution of marriage.
1. Belgium: 71%
A first glance, Belgium appears an example of European modernity: a nation with a rich history and splendid architecture which is the centre of power for the European Union and Parliament. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll realise that all is not well in the nation so famous for its chocolate. Politically, Belgium is fiercely divided between the French speaking south, which includes the capital Brussels, and the Flemish speaking north, close to Holland. The nation is so divided that successive elections have resulted in collapsed governments with Belgium going a record 535 days without a government as a result. Against this backdrop divorce levels have been climbing, with the decline of the Church cited as a key factor in these figures. Around 32,000 Belgians sign divorce papers every year. Belgian courts will grant a divorce on the grounds of adultery, excesses, physical or mental cruelty and de facto separation. Only about a third of marriages in Belgium actually last, which is a startling fact that undeniably calls the integrity of the ’til-death-do-us-part institution (in Belgium, at least) into question.