Divorce politics

Yesterday’s ABS divorce statistics for 2006 provide more evidence for our discussion of familist politics.

On the one hand, there is again no evidence that industrial relations changes are anti-family. The absolute number of divorces fell for the fifth year in a row. The ABS’s ‘crude divorce rate’, the number of divorces per 1,000 persons, as it mathematically must with a rising population, also fell. This is not a very good indicator of the stability of marriage as an institution, since it could reflect fewer people getting married as much as fewer people getting divorced. But comparing the absolute number of divorces with the absolute number of married persons recorded in the census shows the same trend. 1.45% of marriages were dissolved in 2001, compared to 1.3% in 2006 (though there had been an upward spike in 2001; the rate was 1.4% in 1996).

On the other hand, could perhaps a declining divorce rate mean that the massive family handouts of the Howard government are having a positive effect? Though the proportion of divorces involving children has been stable since 2002 on 50%, it is down from 54% in 1996, and the overall drop in divorces means fewer kids are having their lives turned upside down by divorce. There were 5,000 fewer kids whose parents divorced in 2006 compared to 2001. It is of course very hard to isolate the effects of family payments, but there is no new evidence against family spending in these numbers.

Or perhaps, as is suggested in the SMH, these improving numbers are just a ‘blip’. The average duration of marriage before divorce is rising, but that may not affect the proportion of marriages which eventually break up. Closer examination of the divorce statistics shows that divorce rates are dropping for those aged 44 and below, while rising for those aged 44 and above. But at least this means fewer couples with children still in the home are ending their marriages.