Superstition theory as number of marriages falls 8.6% in 2013

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The number of people getting married fell in 2013 as some couples postponed their nuptials fearing the unlucky number 13 could jinx them.

There were 240,854 marriages in England and Wales, a drop of some 8.6% compared with 2012 and the first fall since 2009, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

While the number of marriages has been in long-term decline since the 1970s, it had started to rise again in 2009.

Elizabeth McLaren, a statistician from the vital statistics outputs branch at ONS, said: "Fewer people got married in England and Wales in 2013, the first decrease in marriages since 2009.

"The fall could indicate the continuation of the long-term decline in marriages since 1972 or could be due to couples choosing to postpone their marriage to avoid the number 13 which is perceived as unlucky by many cultures."

She told the Press Association that, unlike most other milestones in life, such as births and deaths, people have absolute control over when they tie the knot.

She said: "When you have the freedom to choose there are probably certain dates you might avoid, like Friday 13th and that sort of thing.

"It is going to be interesting to see whether this is part of a long-term decline or if it will change again."

The majority of couples (72%) decided to exchange vows in civil ceremonies rather than in a church or other religious building.

And newlyweds are continuing to get older, with men a mean age of 36.7 when they walk down the aisle and women on average 34.3 years old.

And there has been a rise in marriages among pensioners, fuelled by women getting married in their later years. In the decade since 2003 there has been a 33% increase in the marriage rate for women aged 65 and over, bucking the overall trend of decline.

The marriage rate for men aged 65 and over has only risen by 2% over the same period.

Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation think-tank, said: "The latest statistics show marriage rates fell dramatically in 2013. It is a damning indictment of a supposedly pro-marriage Government.

"Despite all their rhetoric of wanting to help promote family stability and improve outcomes for children, they have failed to tackle the disincentive to marriage in the tax system.

"So far this Government has brought in a token married couples tax allowance, worth a paltry £200 a year. It's no wonder that that has done nothing to counter the £7,000 tax penalty on couples who move in together.

"The reluctance of our Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb to champion marriage when he himself benefits from the stability the institution provides is surprising.

"It is irrefutable that marriage benefits families hugely and children in particular. Evidence shows that child outcomes are worse in lone-parent and non-married families because of the devastating effect of family breakdown.

"Only 7% of parents who are still together when their children reach 15 are not married. If this Government is serious about tackling family breakdown, it needs to back marriage unambiguously."