Is something stable

The marriages in the country are a little more stable again

On the development of divorces in Baden-Württemberg

Werner Brachat-Schwarz

"In view of the high and rising divorce rates, marriage has objectively and subjectively become a risky undertaking," said Michael Wagner, Professor of Sociology at the University of Cologne, in 2004.1 In fact, the frequency of divorce has risen steadily over the past few decades and was most recently around 40%. In recent years, however, there have been signs of a trend reversal. The following article therefore aims to show that marriages in Baden-Württemberg have actually become somewhat more stable again. In addition, other selected results of the marriage dissolution statistics for the 2016 reporting year are presented.

In 2016, 19,664 marriages were divorced in Baden-Württemberg. This means that the number of divorces has decreased for the fifth time in a row compared to the previous year. Compared to 2004, when 25,129 divorces were registered, the highest level since the state of Baden-Württemberg was founded, the number of divorces has even fallen by a good fifth. Compared to 1990, however, the number of divorces last year was almost a fifth higher, and since 1980 it has even increased by more than half (Figure 1).

In parallel to the development of divorce cases in recent years, the number of underage children affected by divorce has increased. After their number rose to the previous record of almost 22,000 children in 2004, there were almost 15,700 underage children in 2016 whose parents divorced - almost a third less than in 2004.

Nevertheless, the number of children affected by a divorce was around a quarter higher in 2016 than in 1990. This is not only due to the recently higher number of divorces, but also to the fact that today there are more married couples with two or more children under the age of 18 than in the early 1990s. While around one in five of the marriages divorced at the time had two or more underage children in 1990, this was the case for almost one in four of the legally separated marriages in 2016 (24%). In exactly half of all divorces, the couples had no children under the age of 18 at the time of the divorce.

The most common divorce in 2016 was in the "darned" 7th year of marriage (976).2 The second most common marriages were divorced in the 6th year of marriage (937), followed by the 8th (875) and 9th year of marriage (861, Figure 2). But divorces after a relatively long period of living together were not isolated cases either. For example, in every sixth of the marriages divorced in 2016, couples had already passed the silver wedding anniversary. With 389 married couples the divorce took place in the year of the 25th anniversary of the marriage, with eight couples in the year of the "golden wedding". On the other hand, there were five couples last year whose marriages were divorced in the first year of marriage.

The average duration of all marriages divorced in 2016 was around 15 years, compared to just 10 years in 1970. This relatively steady increase in the duration of marriages over the past few decades is, on the one hand, the result of the baby boomers at the beginning of the 1960s (“baby boomers”). Because the marriages of this generation that still exist now are of a longer duration. If they are divorced, they are - as the cast strengths were significantly larger than in the younger age groups - with a relatively large weight in the calculation of the average duration of the marriage.3 On the other hand, a behavioral effect can also be observed. Long-term marriages are now divorced more often than in the past. And finally, the reform of marriage and family law on July 1, 1977 also contributed to the fact that the average length of marriages increased because this reform significantly increased the length of the divorce proceedings.4

It is also of interest to see how the duration of the marriage developed, which was not ended by divorce but by the death of the spouse. This remained practically unchanged compared to 1970 and was around 40 years both then and in 2016 (Figure 3). The couples recently got married much later than they did around 3.5 decades ago; since then, however, the average age at death has risen to a similar extent.5

Most marriages are still separated by the death of a spouse. In recent years, their number has been in the order of just over 40,000 widowers per year. However, the institution of "lifelong marriage" is apparently becoming less important. Only two thirds of all marriage solutions in recent years were based on the widowing of the wife or husband, the remaining third on divorce. In contrast, as recently as 1970, around four fifths of marriage cancellations were due to the death of a spouse and only one fifth to divorces.

In the past few decades, the frequency of divorce has risen with each younger age group. In the 1960s, around 15% of the marriages entered into at the time were divorced. In the 1970s, this fate applied to every fourth couple, and to every third marriage in the 1980s. Of the couples who entered into the marriage bond in 1995, 33% were divorced by 2016 - i.e. after 21 years of marriage. The prognosis for this age group is a divorce rate of 39% (Figure 4).6 This divorce rate applies to the marriages entered into in 1995 at the beginning of those marriages. It is certainly also interesting to see what the “residual risk of divorce” the still existing marriages of this year group, for example in 2017, i.e. in the 23rd year of marriage, have. In mathematical terms, this risk is "only" 9% (Figure 5).

For younger marriage cohorts, it is becoming apparent that marriages have recently become somewhat more stable again. For example, of the marriages entered into in 2005, »only« around 19% have been divorced - for the marriage cohorts 1995 and 2000 the corresponding proportion after the first 11 years of marriage was 21% and 22%, respectively.

This trend towards somewhat lower divorce rates is also evident when comparing different reporting years rather than individual marriage cohorts. In 2016, the frequency of divorce declined compared to 2010, especially in the first years of marriage, i.e. in the years in which separations are relatively frequent (Figure 6).

What are the reasons that the divorce rate is falling slightly after it has risen steadily over the past decades? The decisive factor for the decline is likely to be that attitudes towards marriage have continued to change. Marriage is no longer what it used to be. It is no longer a must. It has become a possibility. Because today couples can just as easily live together without a marriage certificate. Marriages that might have been "under no good star" from the start may no longer be concluded in the first place and therefore cannot be divorced! The fact that - as shown - the frequency of divorce has decreased, especially in the first few years of marriage, also suggests that there has been more "conscious" marriage in recent years.

If couples get married today, then on average they are much older than they used to be. Today, men are on average over 33 years old when they get married for the first time and women are almost 31 years old. This means that the average age at which single men and women appear before the registry office has risen by over 3 years since 1995 alone - and the risk of divorce tends to decrease the higher the marriage age.7

There could be another reason for the somewhat lower divorce rate, namely the excellent economic environment, which is reflected in low unemployment and a peak in employment. This is supported by the results of the research by Fabio Franzese and Ingmar Rapp, according to which unemployment increases the risk of separation from marriages.8

In regional terms, there are still differences in divorce behavior. The lowest frequency of divorce was recently in the Ortenau, Main-Tauber, Ostalb and Alb-Donau districts and in the Schwäbisch Hall district. In these districts, an average of around 72 marriages out of 10,000 marriages were divorced between 2013 and 2016 (Figure 7). This so-called specific divorce rate (point i) was by far the highest in Mannheim with 101 divorces per 10,000 marriages.

What are these regional differences due to? For decades it was believed that urban areas had higher divorce rates than rural areas. In fact, in the mid-1990s, all urban districts of Baden-Württemberg had an above-average and predominantly rural district with the lowest frequency of divorce (Figure 7). Recently, however, this “urban-rural divide” was no longer observable. On the one hand, the divorce rate between 2013 and 2016 in five out of nine urban districts (Karlsruhe, Freiburg im Breisgau, Heidelberg, Heilbronn and Stuttgart) was lower than the national average. On the other hand, increasingly sparsely populated districts have recently been among those areas with an above-average frequency of divorce.

It is also noticeable that the range, i.e. the difference between the districts with the lowest and highest rates of divorce, has decreased significantly in the past two decades. From 1993 to 1996, the divorce rate in the district with the highest value was twice as high as in the district with the lowest frequency; From 2013 to 2016 this difference was only 40%.

This development can certainly be interpreted as an approximation of lifestyles, especially between town and country - probably also due to the strong relocation activities of the population in recent decades. Every year in Baden-Württemberg there are around 1 million moves from one municipality to another in the state or across the state border. In purely mathematical terms, every eleventh inhabitant of the country moves to a different municipality within a year.

Are there other starting points to explain the regional differences in divorce rates? Family sociological studies came to the conclusion that the following factors, among others, influence the frequency of divorce9 and thus - depending on the socio-demographic composition of the population - determine the level in the individual sub-areas:

  • Children together reduce the frequency of divorce. However, the positive effects of children on marital stability decrease with increasing childhood and length of marriage. Childless marriages have the highest risk of divorce.
  • In comparison to marriages between Germans on the one hand and marriages between foreigners on the other hand, marriages between Germans and foreigners have the highest divorce rates.
  • Protestants and non-denominationalists are at higher risk of divorce than Catholics.
  • Marriages in which both partners are employed are more likely to divorce than marriages in which the woman is not employed.
  • The more the woman earns compared to the man, the higher the risk of divorce.
  • Marriages in which the woman has a higher level of education than the man have a higher risk of divorce than marriages in which the man has at least an equivalent education.
  • Homeownership marriages are less likely to divorce.

Applied to the urban and rural districts of Baden-Württemberg, however, it becomes apparent that the regional differences in the current level of divorce - if corresponding data were available at all - can hardly be explained by the above-mentioned relationships.10 This could be due, among other things, to the fact that, as shown, the population is very mobile and their lifestyles have also adjusted as a result. In addition, the jurisdiction for a divorce is not always the jurisdiction in which the married couples lived their last common home, but in particular the one in which one of the married couples with their common minor children has their new place of residence.11

It should also be taken into account that the number of divorces, especially in the smaller urban and rural districts, fluctuates significantly over time. This means that although an average of 4 years was formed when calculating the frequency of divorce in the districts (see Figure 7), random influences cannot be completely ruled out. And finally, it could also be that the connections established by family research in earlier decades are only valid to a limited extent today, for example the above-mentioned statement that Protestants divorce more often than Catholics.

It should be noted that the divorce rate has tended to decline slightly in recent years and regional differences have narrowed. The data from official statistics cannot clearly demonstrate what the still existing regional discrepancies are due to. It also remains to be seen whether the divorce rate will continue to decrease in the future or whether it will increase again (somewhat) if, for example, the general economic conditions should deteriorate. The high mobility of the population at least suggests that the regional differences within the country are likely to decrease further.

1 Wagner, Michael: Divorce Risks in Germany from a Sociological Perspective, in: trade union monthly magazines, 2004, edition 7–8, p. 483.

2 The duration of the marriage results statistically from the difference between the year of the marriage and the year in which the divorce decree becomes final. Since in most cases the divorce is only pronounced after a 1-year separation period, marriages are in fact most often broken up in the 6th or after the 5th year of marriage.

3 Grünheid, Evelyn: Divorces in Germany: Developments and Backgrounds, in: BiB Working Paper 1/2013, p. 11 f., Federal Institute for Population Research (publisher).

4 Braun, Werner: Ehescheidungen 1984, in: Wirtschaft und Statistics, 3/1986, p. 188.

5 Single, widowed or divorced men married in Baden-Württemberg in recent years at an average of 37 years. The average age at death was recently just under 76 years. So men who did not get divorced were married on average for around 39 years. Since women marry on average at 34 years of age and their average age at death is a good 82 years, which is higher than that of men, the result is a marriage of 39 years for both men and women. The later marriage age and the lower life expectancy of men are therefore the "limiting" factors for the duration of the marriage.

6 These results rather represent a lower limit of the respectively determined frequency of divorce, because for reasons of comparability over time, only the divorces in the first 30 years of marriage were taken into account; Their share of all divorced marriages was, for example, almost 93% in the 2016 reporting year.

7 Grünheid, Evelyn: Divorces in Germany: Developments and Backgrounds, in: BiB Working Paper 1/2013, p. 7, Federal Institute for Population Research (publisher).

8 Franzese, Fabio / Rapp, Ingmar: The influence of unemployment on the risk of separation in marriages, in: Zeitschrift für Familienforschung, 2013, issue 3, p. 331 ff.

9 Peuckert, Rüdiger: Families in Social Change, 7th edition, 2008, p. 174 ff.

10 A statistical relationship between two data series can be measured using a correlation analysis. Very often the Bravais-Pearson correlation coefficient is calculated for this purpose, whereby this can assume values ​​between −1 and +1. A value of +1 means a very strong, positive relationship, a value of −1 a very strong, negative relationship. The Bravais-Pearson correlation coefficient for all examined variables was below +/- 0.3 in each case, which is to be assessed as a weak to nonexistent relationship the closer this value is to zero.

11 Which court is locally competent for a divorce is regulated in Section 122 of the Act on the Procedure in Family Matters and in Matters of Non-contentious Jurisdiction.

The frequency of divorce can be based on the one hand for a certain marriage year ("longitudinal view") and on the other hand for a specific calendar year ("cross-sectional view").

Information on the proportion of marriages entered into in a certain year is or will be divorced, of course, only for very distant marriage cohorts, for example for the year 1940. For younger marriage cohorts, therefore, only an estimate of this proportion of divorced marriages can be made. For this purpose, the missing years are extrapolated based on the current divorce relationships, because, for example, for the marriage year 1990 only results are currently available for the first 27 years of marriage. For the older age, the current divorce rates of the corresponding age years are used.For example, in the 2016 reporting year, the divorce rate in the 30th year of marriage was around 0.5%.

In addition to these "longitudinal considerations" for certain marriage cohorts, "divorce rates" are also calculated for individual reporting years ("cross-sectional view"). With the sum of the marriage-specific divorce figures, for example over 30 marriage cohorts, it is possible to determine approximately the proportion of marriages that would be divorced if the current divorce frequency was constant.

In addition, the so-called specific divorce rate - also based on the reporting year - was calculated for the urban and rural districts. However, the number of divorces was only based on a lump sum, i.e. without taking into account the duration of the marriage, to 10,000 existing marriages.