Divorce rate linked to women working: European survey shows more British marriages end in failure

BRITAIN has the highest divorce rate in Europe and women are following the continental trend of having their first child in their late twenties, according to a new study.

The report into European lifestyles by the market and consumer research group Mintel depicts a Community that still has far to go before it can be described as united, despite sharing more similarities than in the past.

For the study, Mintel analysed 7,356 interviews conducted by NOP with adults in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium, whose combined 316 million inhabitants account for 93 per cent of the EC's population.

Between 1990 and last year, 390,000 marriages took place in Britain and 170,000 couples divorced - more than in any European country. In Germany, which has a population one-third greater, there were 516,000 weddings but just 155,000 divorces.

Researchers believe that the high British divorce rate - one for every 2.3 marriages - is because the nation has the highest proportion of working women in Europe, so wives have more financial independence. Also, divorces are easier to obtain than in traditionally Roman Catholic countries such as Spain, where the lowest rate of one for every 9.6 marriages was recorded.

Marriage break-ups have contributed to the growth of single-person households, which now account for 26 per cent of all British homes. Other contributory factors are an ageing population and a growing trend for young people to delay marrying.

Women throughout Europe are waiting until their late twenties to have their first child, varying from 26.3 years in Spain to 29.2 years in the Netherlands. Precise figures for the mother's age when her first child is born do not exist in the UK but the average is within this range.

Peter Ayton, head of research at Mintel, said that the trend is because of increased use of birth control, couples waiting to marry, the increase in the number of working women and the cost of bringing up children.

Predicted demographic changes in Britain are expected to mirror those in Europe. In both cases, the age group which will rise the most rapidly up to 1997 is 45 to 54, while the number between 15 and 24 will decline.

Mr Ayton said that the combined effect of a growing elderly population coupled with the recession and the demands of the Maastrict treaty will put increased pressure on European governments of all political persuasions to control public expenditure and increase taxes, particularly through indirect means. 'The result will be a widening of the gap between those who rely on state benefits and those who don't. The gap between those who are in work and the unemployed will grow as will that between people reliant on state pensions and private pensions,' he said.

In all European countries there is a move from rural and inner-city areas into mid-sized towns. Overall, standard of living is improving and ownership of housing, consumer durables and private transport is increasing.

Mintel employs about 50 permanent staff and has an annual turnover of pounds 5m. The London-based firm commissions market research then analyses the results. It annually publishes about 30 special reports such as European Lifestyles 1993 - one of its most ambitious projects to date - as well as preparing 300 surveys a year for corporate clients.

European Lifestyles 1993 comprises two pan-European reports - 'Quality of Life in Europe' and 'European Purchasing and Consumption'; price of individual reports available on 071 606 6000; price of all 16 vols, pounds 6,660.

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