Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples dip to lowest level since records began


Marriage rates among opposite-sex couples have fallen to a record low, official figures show.

Rising costs associated with tying the knot were cited as one possible factor behind the drop.

Experts also suggested many people are focusing on other priorities such as education, starting a family or buying a house.

Figures for 2015 show marriage rates for opposite-sex couples were the lowest since data collection started in 1862, with 21.7 marriages per thousand unmarried men, and 19.8 marriages per thousand unmarried women in England and Wales.

The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples, 239,020, was the smallest for a calendar year since 2009.

But older age groups appear to be bucking the overall downward trend.

Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples marrying in 2015 were lower at all ages compared with a decade earlier - except for men aged 65 and over and women aged 55 and over, where the rates increased, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Marriage rates in England and Wales
(PA Graphics)

Nicola Haines, of the ONS, said: "Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early 1970s.

"The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples decreased by 3.4% in 2015, compared with 2014.

"Despite this overall decline, marriages at older ages rose; the number of weddings increased for men aged 50 and over and women aged 35 to 39 years and 45 and over."

Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation, said the record low marriage rates "should give all policymakers deep cause for concern".

He added: "Britain already languishes in shame at the bottom of the developed world league table for family stability, almost entirely due to the trend away from marriage and formal commitment."

Chris Sherwood, chief executive of charity Relate, noted that research suggests most people see little difference between marriage and living together.

"It's not entirely clear why marriage rates among opposite-sex couples are at an all-time low but it could be that the rising cost of marriage is a deterrent," he said.

"It's also possible that many people are now prioritising other things over getting married, such as education, starting a family, buying a house and going travelling.

"This could also be a reason for the rising average age of marriage."

He pointed out that "societal pressures" apparent when Relate was founded 80 years ago do not exist today, adding: "It's to be celebrated that people now have far greater choice around how they form, structure and manage their relationships."

The ONS figures showed there were 6,493 marriages between same-sex couples in 2015, with a further 9,156 converting their civil partnership into a marriage.

Ms Haines said: "This is the first full year for which marriages were available for same-sex couples and they accounted for 2.6% of all marriages."

The average age at which people are getting married continues to rise.

For opposite-sex couples marrying in 2015 it was 37.5 years for men and 35.1 years for women.

The average age of marriage for same-sex couples was slightly higher, at 40.6 years for men and 37.0 years for women.

In other findings, there were falls in both civil and religious ceremonies among opposite-sex couples, decreasing by 1.6% and 8% respectively compared with 2014.

Same-sex couples mostly solemnised their marriages in civil ceremonies, with only 44 religious ceremonies in 2015.