But that is partly because only couples who have a long term view of their relationship and have planned for the future choose to get married at all, says a marriage research group.
The latest figures, published yesterday by the Office of National Statistics in the winter issue of Population Trends, show that the divorce rate has fallen since 1996. It dropped 6.6 per cent in 1997 and a further 1.1 per cent in 1998. There were 145,200 divorces in England and Wales in 1998 compared with 146,700 in 1997, and 158,700 in 1991.
Although some of the decline rate is linked to a fall in the marriage rate, the proportion of married people divorcing has also dropped, which indicates other social causes.
Only 12.9 per 1,000 married people got divorced last year the lowest figure since the beginning of the decade. The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is 9 to 10 years.
"The married population are becoming more homogeneous, with more stable lives and values than they were 20 years ago because none of the social pressures of only having sex and children within marriage now hold, so people are marrying for different reasons, " said Penny Mansfield, of One plus One, the marriage research charity.
"People are marrying later after they have established themselves in careers and research has shown the higher the couple's income the less likely they are to divorce," she said. " People who are seeking a life- long partner know you can't find Mr Right but you can filter out Mr Wrong and they are not basing their choice purely on falling in love but also on wanting similar futures, such as having children," she said.
Some 70 per cent of divorces were granted to the wife. Divorces granted on the grounds of adultery fell from around 45,000 in 1991 to about 36,000. More divorces were granted on grounds of separation than adultery in 1998, a reversal of the situation in 1991.
The figures show that the average age at divorce continues to rise. It was 40.4 years for men, and 37.9 years for women in 1998, compared with 39.7 and 37.2 respectively in 1997. This reflects the increases in recent years in the average age of people when they marry.
Nearly 71 per cent of divorces were the first marriage for both parties, the same as in 1997, compared with 82 per cent in 1981. Nearly one out of every five men and women divorcing in 1998 had been divorced before compared with only one in 10 in 1981.Reuse content