Lesbian couples two and a half times more likely to get divorced than male same-sex couples, ONS figures reveal

More than three quarters of the splits between same sex couples in England and Wales were between two women

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 18 October 2017 18:46 BST
Divorce between female same-sex couples accounted for 78 per cent of same-sex divorces in England and Wales last year
Divorce between female same-sex couples accounted for 78 per cent of same-sex divorces in England and Wales last year

Lesbian couples are more than twice as likely to get divorced than gay men, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed.

The data shows that there were 112 divorces of same-sex couples in 2016 – a fivefold rise on the previous year, when there were 22.

More than three quarters of the splits (78 per cent) in England and Wales were between lesbian couples. In total, 87 ended their unions, compared with just 25 for divorces between gay men.

Unreasonable behaviour – which can include having a sexual relationship with someone else – was the most common grounds for divorce among same-sex couples.

It accounted for 96 per cent of divorces among men and 93 per cent among women.

After same sex marriage became legal in the UK in March 2014, 1,409 same-sex marriages took place in the three months to June.

Of these, 56 per cent or 796 marriages took place between female couples, while 44 per cent or 613 male couples were wed.

Based on these figures, approximately 11 per cent of the female couples who got married were divorced last year.

This compares with just four per cent of male same-sex couples – indicating that lesbian marriages are nearly two and a half times more likely to divorce.

The findings mark a further rise in a trend that emerged in 2013, when ONS statistics revealed that lesbian couples were nearly twice as likely as gay men to end a civil partnership. Overall there were 794 dissolutions in 2012, almost 60 per cent of which were female couples.

In the seven years after gay couples started being able to have civil partnerships, three per cent of male unions ended in dissolution, compared to six per cent of female couples.

Sociologists believe the lower rates of divorces among gay men may reflect a trend of women committing sooner and having higher expectations for a relationship.

Gunnar Andersson, professor of demography at Stockholm University, previously found in successive studies that women in Norway, Sweden and Denmark were twice as likely to dissolve their civil partnerships than men.

“This reflects trends in a heterosexual marriage because women are more prone to say they want to marry - but they’re also more likely to initiate a divorce," he told The Independent, after releasing his findings in 2013.

"Women usually have higher demands on relationship quality, that’s often been said in studies. Even if you control for age there is still a trend of more women ending partnerships than men.”

Previous figures show British women in heterosexual relationships are more likely to file for divorce than men, with women initiating the divorce in two thirds of cases in the UK in 2011.

Divorces relating to marriages that took place abroad are included in the ONS figures, provided the marriage was legally recognised in the UK and one of the parties had a permanent home in England and Wales.

Additionally, same-sex couples have been able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage since December 2014. If a civil partnership has been converted into a marriage, the duration of marriage is based on the date the civil partnership was formed rather than the date on which the civil partnership was converted into a marriage.

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The ONS data also reveals that there were 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2016, an increase of six per cent compared with 2015.

In 2016, there were nine divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 and over (divorce rates), an increase of 4.7 per cent since 2015.

However, divorce rates in 2016 are more than 20 per cent lower than the recent peak in divorce rate in 2003 and 2004.

The divorce rate for opposite-sex couples was highest among men aged 45 to 49 and women in their thirties (ages 30 to 39), according to the figures.

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