Why is the divorce rate so high in the Western World?

Out of the 10 countries with highest divorce rates, 8 are in Europe and the other 2 are Cuba and the USA. Over half of the marriages in these countries end with broken oaths, broken families and broken relationships. In Belgium, a shocking 7 out of 10 marriages end with divorce papers being signed.

Recent demographic data reveals a decrease in the number of marriages per 1000 people within the European Union but despite this, the proportional divorce rate and the number of children born to unwed parents continues to increase.

Ostensibly, it seems like the sanctity of marriage has faded in the Western world. Although we’re ingrained with the notion of a “happily ever after” marriage from a young age through media and even children’s stories, it seems to be conflicting with real relationships. There are several factors which have contributed to the rising rate of divorces in the Western world.

1. The Feminist Movement

Recent data shows that women are more likely to initiate a divorce than men although non-marital breakups are quite even amongst the genders. No longer are woman made to tolerate an inadequate partner or an unfulfilling marriage as may have been the case just a 100 years ago.

The positive effect of the feminist movement in the 20th century certainly gave women a higher sense of worth in marital relationships. The compulsion to stay in a bad marriage just for social or economic security no longer exists. As women became a stronger presence in the workplace, dire economic necessity was no longer relevant as a reason for women to stay in a bad marriage.

2. Legal Systems

Divorce rates in America doubled from 26% in 1967 to 52% in 1980. The 1970s were significant due to the fact that no-fault divorces became widely available. Prior to this point, people wanting to end their marriage were required to provide proof of adultery or cruelness.

The process of divorce became even easier and faster after laws reduced the separation time as well as removing the mandatory long separation before the divorce.

Similar changes in the law occurred in Europe with the Divorce Reform Law being passed in Britain which also allowed no-fault divorces. In short, changes in legislation across the West made divorce much more attainable and as more people began to divorce, it also became increasingly socially acceptable.

3. Religion

Religion can affect divorce rates in several ways. In orthodox countries, the subject of divorce itself may be taboo and is looked down upon in society. Religious laws may make the process of divorce itself much more complicated and difficult to attain.

While religion can make divorce less attainable, studies show that valuing and practising your faith is associated with long-term marital stability and higher levels of marital satisfaction.

With the widespread decline of religion across the West, this may be one of the reasons for the increase in divorce rates compared to the rest of the world over the last few decades.

Between 1983 and 2015, the percentage of Britons identifying as Christians fell from 55-43%. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans believing strongly in God’s existence has dropped sharply over recent years from 71-63% from the years 2007 to 2014.

Perhaps the decline in religious values in the Western world has undermined the significance and sanctity of marriage?

4. Cultural Factors

Certain professions are shown to have higher correlations with divorce rates than others. In general, a stable job in a steady sector is linked to lower divorce rates. Cohabitation (living together when not married) is also a factor leading to higher divorce rates. Unsurprisingly, demographics with higher smoking and drinking rates also have a positive correlation with divorce rates.

Furthermore, although the total number of marriages ending in divorce may be upwards of 50% in the USA. This is partly due to the fact that people who have already been through a divorce are up to 20% more likely to divorce their next partner should they decide to marry again.

With the vastly different societal pressures and values in the Western world, divorce has become much more attainable and acceptable than elsewhere in the world. Other, more traditional cultures are less socially tolerant of divorces and thus have comparatively lower rates of divorce. Sadly, in our increasingly individualistic and disposable society, marriages are often thrown away like an old pair of trainers.

Divorce Coach and Marriage Educator Cathy Meyers also blames declining morals in her article as one of the reasons for high divorce rates. People’s belief that turning elsewhere is justifiable if their needs aren’t being met by their spouse wreaks havoc on a marriage. Very few marriages ever recover from infidelity and some studies estimate that between 30-60% of married individuals will cheat on their partner at some point during their marriage with this figure increasing amongst people under the age of 30.


Over the last few decades, divorce has not only become far more attainable due to legal reforms but also a much more accepted option in our society. Cultural norms have changed with the increased presence and independence of women in the workplace. Due to the strong correlation between strong religious values and lower divorce rates, it can be inferred that the decline of religion in the West has certainly had an impact on the rate of divorces compared to other parts of the world.

Our changing morals and belief systems have altered the way we view the role of marriage in society and the importance of being faithful and working to fix a marriage seems to have dissipated.

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