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Statistics show decline in marriage rates, and increase in age at marriage

20 May 2022


A newly married couple outside Medway Registry Office in Rochester, in July 2020

A newly married couple outside Medway Registry Office in Rochester, in July 2020

MARRIAGE rates have fallen to their lowest since 1862, and religious ceremonies now account for less than one in five, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published on Thursday.

Among marriages of opposite-sex couples in 2019, more than 75 per cent of men and women were marrying for the first time. First marriages were slightly higher among same-sex couples: 89.3 per cent of men and 81.8 per cent of women marrying for the first time.

Civil ceremonies have outnumbered religious ceremonies since 1992, and the number continues to decrease. In 2018, they made up 21.1 per cent of marriages; in 2019, the percentage fell to 18.7 — the lowest on record. In the past two decades, there has been a decrease of 60.4 per cent in opposite-sex religious ceremonies.

There were 219,850 marriages in total in England and Wales in 2019 — down 6.4 per cent from 2018; 213,122 were between opposite-sex couples — down 6.5 per cent; and 6728 between same-sex couples — down 2.8 per cent.

The decline is suggested to be “a likely consequence of increasing numbers of men and women delaying marriage or couples choosing to live together rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative”. Future analysis will show the impact of the pandemic on marriages rates, the ONS says.

The statistics show that opposite-sex couples marrying for the first time are more likely to choose a religious ceremony, compared with those who are marrying again. In 2019, 22.5 per cent of those marrying for the first time (both partners) chose a religious ceremony, compared with nine per cent of those who were marrying again.

The average age at marriage has steadily increased. In the past two decades, there has been an 8.5-per-cent increase in average age for men, and a 9.9-per-cent increase for women. For opposite-sex couples in 2019, it was 34.3 years for men and 32.3 years for women, a slight increase on 2018. For same-sex couples, the average age was slightly higher, at 38.1 for men and 33.8 for women.

Every year since the introduction of same-sex marriages, in 2014, there have been more female than male same-sex marriages: in 2019, 57.4 per cent of the 6728 marriages were between women.

Of same-sex civil partnerships, 578 were converted into marriages in 2019: a 28-per-cent decrease from 803 in 2018. Male couples were more likely to convert their civil partnership into marriage (57.3 per cent) than female couples (42.7 per cent).

The most popular day to get married in 2019 was a Saturday, and August was the most popular month. Seventy-five per cent of religious ceremonies were held on a Saturday, but only 41.9 per cent of civil marriages.

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