Marriages and divorces in Australia

Last week the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest data on marriages and divorces in Australia. As expected, COVID-19 had a direct impact on the number of marriages in 2020. Last year, there were 78,989 marriages, a 30.6% decrease from 2019. The many restrictions in place, including social distancing, size limits on gatherings (including weddings) and travel, led to the largest annual marriage decrease ever reported by the ABS.

Marriage in summary

  • There were 78,989 marriages registered in Australia in 2020, compared with 113,815 in 2019.
  • Annual marriage registrations are the lowest reported since 1961 (76,686).
  • In 2020, Australia's crude marriage rate was 3.1 marriages per 1,000 people, the lowest ever recorded. This compares with 4.5 marriages per 1,000 people in 2019, a rate decrease of 31.1%. As shown in Chart 1, the crude marriage rate fluctuated in the decades prior to 1970, then fell steadily until 2000, when it stabilised before falling again to its all-time low due to Covid-19.
  • Since 2010, median age at marriage has increased from 31.4 to 32.2 years for males and 29.2 to 30.6 years for females.
  • Whilst all states and territories recorded a decrease in marriages compared with 2019, the largest decrease was in Victoria (by 41.9%) where additional restrictions were in place due to the second wave of Covid-19.
  • Saturday 10 October was the most common day on which to marry, with 2,191 couples tying the knot.

Chart 1: crude marriage rate per 1,000 population, 1901–2020


Source: ABS, Marriages and Divorces 2020, Australia (Canberra, 2021); ABS, Year Book Australia, various years 1908–2012

Same-sex marriages

In 2017, Australians voted in favour of marriage equality via a postal survey. On 9 December 2017, the Marriage Act 1961 was amended to allow for marriage equality. From that date, the right to marry under Australian law was no longer determined by sex or gender.

  • There were 2,902 same-sex marriages in 2020, a decrease of 2,605 (47.3%) compared with 2019. Same-sex marriages represented 3.7% of all marriages registered in Australia in 2020.
  • Nationally, more female same-sex couples married (61.4% of all same-sex marriages) than male same-sex couples (38.5%). This was the case across all states and territories.
  • For couples entering same-sex marriages the median age for males was 37.2 years, and for females it was 35.3 years.

Table 1: same-sex marriages (a), 2018–2020

Same-sex marriages 2018 2019 2020
Male same-sex marriages (no.) 2,757 2,262 1,117
Female same-sex marriages (no.) 3,781 3,243 1,782
Total same-sex marriages (no.) 6,538 5,507 2,902
Proportion of marriages that were same-sex (%) 5.5 4.8 3.7

(a) Due to random adjustments of the data (known as perturbation), component cells may not add to published totals.

Source: ABS, Marriages and Divorces 2020, Australia (Canberra, 2021)

Registered relationships

Most state and territory Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages (apart from WA and NT) provide couples an alternative to marriage in the form of a relationship register. Registers are available to adults who are in a relationship as a couple, regardless of sex.

  • There were 19,055 relationships registered in 2020, a small decrease compared to the 19,870 reported in 2019.

Divorces in summary

According to the ABS, divorces are generally only granted after a period of 12 months or more of separation. As such, any breakdown of marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic may not be immediately reflected in changes to the divorce rate.

  • In 2020 there were 49,510 divorces granted in Australia, an increase of 1.9% from 2019 (48,582).
  • The crude divorce rate remained the same as 2019 at 1.9 divorces per 1,000 people.
  • The median age at divorce has increased over time in line with an increase in the median age at marriage. In 2020 the median age at divorce was:
    • 45.6 years for males (compared with 41.4 years in 2000)
    • 42.8 years for females (compared with 38.6 years in 2000).
  • Median duration of marriage to separation and divorce has remained relatively stable over time. The median duration of marriage:
    • to separation was 8.4 years in 2020, compared with 8.2 years in 2000
    • to divorce was 12.1 years in 2020, compared with 11.6 years in 2000.

The Parliamentary Library can assist its clients to interpret the statistics or find other relevant data upon request.



Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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