THE BLOG

Divorce, 'Girl Power' and Economic Recovery

07/02/2014 13:01 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

Those people searching for signs of an upturn after a recession described by some commentators as the worst to afflict the UK in a century have been eagerly scrutinising several key indicators for confirmation that the country's economy is in recovery.

In recent weeks, there has been positive news both on the jobs market and house prices.

However, there is potentially another more unorthodox pointer to economic well-being: marital disharmony.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just published figures for the numbers of divorces during 2012.

They show a slight rise on the previous year but the fact that there is any increase at all is generally interpreted by family lawyers who regularly have to deal with divorce as a clue that, financially at least, things may be picking up.

While the recession was at its height, myself and my colleagues in Pannone's Family department had enquiries from a good number of people who wanted to explore the possibility of getting divorced.

At that point in time, many did not proceed because of reservations about the state of the economy and what impact that might have on their financial well-being if they were trying to re-establish themselves on their own.

In the last 18 months or so, though, we have seen a growing number of spouses who decide immediately to proceed with a divorce. We have also had some of those individuals who merely made initial enquiries returning to now go ahead with their separation.

Such a development might well bring cheer to some economy-watchers, even if it unfortunately means the end of large numbers of marriages.

Dig beneath the headline numbers released by the ONS and a couple more illuminating facts reveal themselves.

The first is that divorce has generally been on the decline since 2004, apart from two small rises in 2010 and 2012. That, of course, is a by-product of the continued march of the cohabiting family, whose numbers have increased by 700,000 in the space of a decade.

More cohabitation means fewer marriages and - so the logic follows - fewer divorces.

The other detail in the latest tranche of ONS material which caught my eye is the proportion of those spouses wanting to divorce who are relatively young and female.

I believe that reflects a growing number of young, professional women who are financially independent and willing to assert that independence by leaving a marriage which they do not find fulfilling.

The ONS has reported that women in their late twenties had the highest divorce rates of all female age groups.

It is a slightly different but no less important manifestation of 'girl power' which has seen women improve their status in the workplace, something which has also given rise to the idea of the 'breadwinning wife' - a spouse earning more than her husband and who may even have to fund the greater share of any settlement following a divorce.

They are confident of their own place in society but not short of role models among successful young women in the arts, business and entertainment, including actress Gemma Arterton and the pop star Katy Perry, who have also decided to bring their marriages to an end.

Based on my experience, though, I reckon that there is another factor at play.

Some female clients of the age group which accounts for more women divorcing than any other have remarked that their desire to start a family has been a prominent consideration when they have been making up their minds to divorce.

They have simply concluded that their current husband is actually not the person with whom they want to have children.

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