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Married lesbian couples are significantly more likely to get divorced than gay men, data shows

Nick Duffy November 18, 2020
Lesbian couples are still significantly more likely than gay men to get divorced, new data suggests.

Lesbian couples are still significantly more likely than gay men to get divorced, new data suggests.

Lesbian couples are still significantly more likely than gay men to get divorced, new data suggests.

Data from the Office for National Statistics published on Tuesday (17 November) shows that while female couples make up just over half of same-sex marriages in England and Wales, they account for nearly three-quarters of same-sex divorces.

Five years on from the introduction of equal marriage in England and Wales, there were 822 divorces among same-sex couples in 2019, nearly twice as many as reported in the previous year.

Of these, 589 were female couples and 233 were male couples.

Divorce is on the rise among same-sex couples, but still a tiny fraction of the total

The ONS says that the overall increase of same-sex divorces “reflects the increasing size of the same-sex married population since 2014”, though divorces among same-sex couples still make up less than one per cent of all divorces.

The median duration of marriage for same-sex couples who divorced in 2019 was 4.3 years for men and 4.1 years for women, suggesting many of the couples separating were among the first cohort to tie the knot.

Unreasonable behaviour was the most common ground for divorces among same-sex couples in 2019, with two-thirds of same-sex couples divorcing for this reason, followed by separation with consent.

Lesbian couples are still significantly more likely than gay men to get divorced, new data suggests.
Lesbian couples are still significantly more likely than gay men to get divorced, new data suggests.

Kanak Ghosh of the ONS Vital Statistics Outputs Branch said: “Same-sex couples have been able to marry in England and Wales from March 2014. Since then, we have seen the number of divorces of same-sex couples increase each year from very small numbers in 2015 when the first divorces took place, to more than 800 in 2019, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population in England and Wales.

“While we see that 56 per cent of same-sex marriages were among females, nearly three-quarters of same-sex divorces in 2019 were to female couples.

“Unreasonable behaviour, which includes adultery, was the most common ground for divorce among same-sex couples this year as almost two-thirds of couples divorced for this reason.”

2020’s divorce stats, which will not be published until late 2021, are likely to be turbulent reading, with lockdown believed to have pushed many couples to the brink.

Why are lesbians more likely to get divorced?

There is no clear statistical explanation for why divorce rates among lesbians and gay men diverge so significantly, though female couples are more likely to get married at younger ages.

Stonewall co-founder Lisa Power previously told The Economist that the number of lesbian couples getting divorced might have something to do with the tendency to move very fast and quickly invest in a relationship, otherwise known as U-hauling.

Power added: “We all used to move in with each other at the drop of a hat.”

Looking at statistics for opposite-sex couples could also provide an explanation, as overall women are much more likely to instigate divorce proceedings than men, with two thirds initiated by women.

Ayesha Vardag, president of divorce firm Vardags, also told The Economist that she believes this might be because women can be less tolerant of infidelity.

Vardag added that, whether gay or lesbian, straight or queer, the problems she sees that lead to divorce among her clients are the same.

She said: “It’s distress about adultery or domestic violence, not being listened to, the sense of one party slogging away and the other one taking it easy. All the same things crop up.”

More: divorce, Gay, lesbian, office of national statistics, same sex marriage, UK

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