THE number of unmarried people cohabiting has increased by nearly a half in the past 15 years. News statistics show that it is now the fastest-growing type of household.
In 2002, couples who were living together but had never been married amounted to 6.8 per cent of the population; by last year that figure had risen to 9.8 per cent, nearly one in ten people in England and Wales.
This means that more than one in five couples (or 5.9 million people) were now cohabiting rather than marrying.
Data released by the Office of National Statistics showed that marriage remains the most common status: last year 50.9 per cent of people (a total of 24.1 million) were in a marriage compared with 34.6 per cent who were single, 8 per cent who were divorced, and 6.4 per cent who were widowed.
But, for the first time, more women are unmarried than married: 49.9 per cent in comparison with 51.9 per cent of men.
The long-term decline in marriage since the 1970s may, however, have come to a halt. For the past five years there has not been a significant drop in the married population or an increase in the single population.
Although same-sex marriages are only a tiny fraction of the whole, the number of people in such a marriage has more than doubled since 2015, which may be helping to arrest the decades-long decline in marriage rates.
Commenting on the figures, Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation told The Daily Express that marriage remained the best way forward for couples. “These latest figures provide the very first shoots of hope that the trend away from marriage may have come to an end.
“At the very least, marriage has now stopped declining for five years. This is long overdue good news as study after study — including several from Marriage Foundation — shows that married families provide greater stability for both adults and children than unmarried families.”
As well as its website aimed at encouraging engaged couples to marry in a Church of England church — www.yourchurchwedding.org — the Archbishops’ Council has also produced materials on its Church Support hub site (www.churchsupporthub.org) to help churches minister to couples during and after a wedding.