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World News

UK Marriage rates and number of religious weddings decline, as do divorce rates

by Cara Bentley

Heterosexual marriage rates are down to their lowest levels on record but couples who do marry are now more likely to stay together rather than divorce. 

The Office for National Statistics has released its data on marriage from 2018 as well as data comparing the 2011 census with 1961. 

There were 234,795 marriages (opposite sex and same-sex marriages) in England and Wales in 2018 - a decrease of 3.3 per cent compared with 2017 and the lowest number of overall marriages since 2009.

Marriages of opposite-sex couples in 2018 accounted for the majority (97.1 per cent) of marriages, with 227,870, and are the lowest on record, since 1894. 

However, since 2003, there has been a drop in divorce, both due to fewer people being married and people typically getting married later and marriages at older ages tending to be less likely to break up.

Responding to the latest ONS figures on marriage rates, Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation, commented: "This decline [in marriage] also needs to be set in context. The divorce rate is at its lowest level in 30 years, suggesting those who get married are much more likely to stick together and marriage remains the most stable form of relationship, especially when you factor in children."

The ONS said that the number of opposite-sex marriages had also fallen by 47 per cent since 1972, likely as a result of more men and women delaying marriage choosing to cohabit instead. 

Kanak Ghosh from the ONS said: "Despite this overall decline, more people are choosing to get married at older ages, particularly those aged 65 and over."

In 2018 the average age at marriage for opposite-sex couples was 38.1 years for men and 35.8 years for women, while for same-sex couples the average age at marriage were 40.4 years and 36.9 years respectively.

Among opposite-sex couples in 2018, more women than men married at younger ages (aged under 30 years) and more men than women married at older ages (aged 30 years and over) (Figure 2). This pattern reflects that, on average, men tend to form relationships with women younger than themselves.

Religious ceremonies accounted for about one in five (21 per cent) opposite-sex marriages in 2018, the lowest on record, and 0.9 per cent of same-sex marriages.

This has dropped steadily over time the ONS said, with religious ceremonies accounting for 85 per cent of all marriages in 1900.

By 1980 this had fallen to 50 per cent and since 1992 civil marriages have increasingly outnumbered religious marriages every year, the ONS said.

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