Eurostat: Czech Republic has highest divorce rate in Europe

This week the European Union's Statistical Office, Eurostat, published a report on the state of the family in the 25 member states. From the survey, the Czech Republic comes across as average with one exception - the divorce rate - which was found to be higher than in all other EU members except Lithuania.

With 3.2 people out of every 1000 getting a divorce in 2004, the Czech Republic tops the list in Europe. The Eurostat survey used figures for 2004 but the Czech Statistics Office has already released the numbers for last year.

"We registered 31,800 divorces in 2005. This number was by 1,800 lower than in the previous year and even the lowest one in the last five year. The drop in the number of divorces resulted in a slight decrease of the share of marriages terminating by divorce, namely from 49 percent in 2004 to 47 percent in 2005."

Even though the recent drop may only be a glitch in the statistics, according to Terezie Kretschmerova from the Czech Statistics Office, the data indicates that the divorce rate might be beginning to stabilise after decades of rising, from some 16 percent in 1960 to the current figure of just below 50 percent. This means that every second marriage eventually breaks up. But a large percentage of Czechs are willing to give it another shot. Jitka Rychtarikova is a demography professor at Charles University.

"There is a very special situation in the Czech Republic because we have the same remarriage rate for males as well as females. It means that about 40 percent of both males and females remarry after divorce. For instance, in Slovakia or in other Western countries, the remarriage rate is higher for males than for females."

So forget about the stereotype of the middle-aged wealthy man marrying his young and pretty secretary and his ex-wife remaining on her own. Demographer Jitka Rychtarikova challenges another stereotype about divorce.

"There is a myth that university graduates divorce the most. It's not true. In the Czech Republic, the highest divorce rate and the highest proportion of divorced people is among people with just primary education. University graduates are the most conservative. It means they divorce the least and they have also the lowest proportion of non-marital births."

According to Jitka Rychtarikova, as a largely secular society, Czechs are generally very tolerant of divorce. Also, large scale employment of women in the decades after the Second World War contributed to the increase in the divorce rate. Women who had their own income and usually no more than two children found it easier to separate from their husbands than women in the West.

The next few years will show whether the long term increasing trend has really stopped or has indeed actually reversed.