On Thursday, the Telegraph gleefully ran a story: “ONS: gay ‘divorces’ up by 44 per cent“, written by Tim Ross and Roma Wells. The story draws on data from Britain’s Office for National Statistics to show that there has been a whopping 44% increase in dissolutions of civil partnerships. They also point to a disparity between gay men and lesbians in that:
In the five years since civil partnerships became legal, 1.6 per cent of formalised gay male relationships have been dissolved, compared with a dissolution rate of 3.3 per cent for lesbian partnerships.
For me, this is a transparent attempt to feed the Telegraph trolls. If you were to install a truth-serum extension in your Firefox, the headline would read:
WE TOLD YOU SO: WE GAVE POOFS THE RIGHT TO MARRY AND NOW LOOK AT THEM ALL GETTING DIVORCED. AND DON’T EVEN MENTION THOSE DUNGAREE WEARING WIMMIN
I do not doubt the veracity of the statistics, as they come from ONS. But either the writers are unqualified to interpret them, or this is a deliberate attempt to feed the latent homphobia in the Torygraph readership.
Firstly, the whopping 44% increase is actually from a very small increase in real terms. Dissolutions in 2009 were – according to their own article – a mere 353. In 2010, just 509.
Secondly, Civil Partnership has only existed since December 2005. I would imagine that the rate of divorce/dissolution is not constant across the lifetime of a marriage. It would be highly unusual for a couple to be together a decade, get married and then a month later decide to dissolve the union. You have to live with people a while before you realise you made a mistake terrible enough that you have to employ lawyers to sort it out. So these first 5 years of data are going to be highly skewed by the recency of the institution of civil partnership. Lazy Googling quotes an average of 11 years being the age of the typical heterosexual marriage – if we’re going to make judgements on the newsworthiness of gay marriages compared to straight, I’d suggest we look at the data in 2020 or so, not now.
Thirdly, considering the fact that observations about gay dissolution rates are mostly meaningless until the data has had time to settle, what would be really newsworthy would be if the rate of gay divorce is significantly different to that for straight marriages.
Regrettably, the ONS does not publish comparable statistics. Their press release of February 2011 gives a rate of heterosexual divorce as 10.5 divorcing people per 1000 married population in England & Wales.
To get comparable data, we need to find out what the “civilly partnered” population is. Using ONS data:
total number of civil partnerships – total number of dissolutions
Partnerships in England & Wales
- 2005: 1790 E, 67 W = 1857
- 2006: 14383 E, 560 W = 14943
- 2007: 7635 E, 294 W = 7929
- 2008: 6276 E, 282 W = 6558
- 2009: 5443 E, 244 W = 5687
Total civil partnerships = 36974
Dissolutions England & Wales
- 2005: no data
- 2006: no data
- 2007: 40
- 2008: 166
- 2009: 329
Total dissolutions = 535
Total civilly partnered population of England & Wales = 36439 × 2 people = 72878
So the equivalent “Number of dissolving people per 1000 civilly partnered population” =
[ (329 × 2) ÷ 72878 ] × 1000 = 9.02
OK, so I posted this in the comments (although my sums were off, but it was late). I got some lame responses. Whatever. The next day though, when I went to check further responses, the story was there, but all Disqus powered comments had gone. Later on in the day when I went to check again, searching for the article using “gay divorce” as a term brought up a link that when clicked on, gave an error message. Now, the article is back (listed three times, with one still error-ing), but Disqus comments are still notably absent. Its not a ‘problem’ either – looking at the page source they have been deliberately set to ‘off’.
I’m a bit surprised by this: not by the fact that a right wing paper would deliberately, or through employing lazy journalists would write a snide article on gay divorces, but that they should be so sensitive to criticism that they’d feel moved to yank the article temporarily and then remove all comments.
( data © Crown Copyright )