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ONS figures show decline in church weddings by a tenth in 2018

13 August 2021

But more older people, particularly over-65s, were getting married


The TV presenter Ant McPartlin married Anne-Marie Corbett at St Michael’s, Heckfield, in Hampshire, last Saturday

The TV presenter Ant McPartlin married Anne-Marie Corbett at St Michael’s, Heckfield, in Hampshire, last Saturday

THE number of religious weddings fell by 11.4 per cent in just one year: 2018, the latest to be reviewed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is the sharpest annual fall recorded.

The popularity of religious weddings has waned steadily over time. In 1900, they accounted for 84.7 per cent of marriage ceremonies. By 1980, the figure had fallen to 50.4 per cent. In 2018, they represented just one fifth (21.5 per cent) of all opposite-sex marriages. They have been by civil ceremonies since 1992.

The total number of marriages in 2018 was 234,795, the ONS reported on Tuesday: the lowest since 2009. The figures confirm the gradual long-term decline in the overall number of marriages and marriage rates since the early 1970s: a decrease of 46.5 per cent since 1972.

Plummeting graphs show that marriage rates for opposite-sex couples have fallen to the lowest on record.

About one in 35 marriages is now of a same-sex couple. Religious ceremonies accounted for only 0.9 per cent of these ceremonies. Of the 6295 same-sex marriages, 57.2 per cent were of female couples. A further 803 couples converted their civil partnership into a marriage.

Just 63 same-sex couples had a religious ceremony: the report notes that “not all religious organisations conduct marriages of same-sex couples.”

Despite the overall decline, more people are choosing to marry at a later age, particularly among the over-65s, the ONS reports. The number of brides and bridegrooms in this age group rose by 46 per cent in a decade, from 7468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014.

Those who have married by the age of 30 are now in a minority. The average age at marriage for opposite-sex couples in 2018 was 38.1 years for men and 35.8 years for women: a pattern that reflects that, “on average, men tend to form relationships with women younger than themselves.” The age pattern is slightly higher for same-sex couples, at 40.4 years for men and 36.9 years for women.

The ONS statisticians attribute the long-term decline in marriage to “a likely consequence of increasing numbers of men and women delaying marriage, or couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative”.

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