London - It was the year of the Argentinian World Cup win.
But while 1986 may have been good to Diego Maradona, it wasn’t so good for hundreds of couples who married that year.
Anyone who wed in 1986 has the highest chance in modern times of ending up divorced. In fact, researchers say almost half of those who married then will eventually split up. Among the couples who tied the knot in 1986 were Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew. They divorced in 1996.
It was the first of six bleak years for marriage, during which the easy availability of divorce and the erosion of traditional family values meant that more couples parted than ever before or since.
After 1991 the figure waned, until by 2008 – the year that produced the most stable marriages in recent times – the proportion of couples who will see their union end in divorce is put at well under the four out of ten mark. The study by the Marriage Foundation think tank gives a year-by-year breakdown of a couple’s chance of divorce, from the liberal 1960s and the explosion in numbers of marriage break-ups that followed.
Divorce law reforms in 1969 removed the idea that a husband or wife had to have been at fault from many cases, and introduced the “quickie” divorce for those who admitted adultery or other faults.
Since the 1990s marriages have become more stable, with younger couples often choosing to live together before marriage, and those who do marry waiting until they are older, and then enjoying more long-lived unions.
Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation said the average age for brides and grooms at their first wedding was 30 and 32 in 2011 – up from 23 and 25 in the early 1980s.
“The entire rise and fall in divorce rates since the 1960s has taken place within the first decade of married life,” he said. “The worst two years to get married were 1986 and 1991. Some 44 percent of couples who married in these years will end up divorced.”
The figures, based on Office for National Statistics marriage and divorce returns, revealed that in 1963 fewer than a third of weddings were due to lead to divorce – 28.2 percent. But by 1977, following the 1969 reforms, the predicted risk of divorce for newly-marrieds had topped 40 percent.
The 1986 peak was matched with 44.4 percent predicted divorce levels for those marrying in 1988 and 1991. Then, gradually, divorce began to tail off and in 2008 bottomed out at 38.3 percent. The lifetime likelihood of divorce for those married in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available, was 38.4 percent.