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New Census figures show fall in legally registered partnerships in England and Wales

27 February 2023

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THE number of people in any form of legally registered partnership in England and Wales is the lowest on record, new statistics from the 2021 Census show.

The latest 2021 figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, show that less than half the adult population (46.9 per cent) are either married, in a civil partnership, or separated, compared with 58.4 per cent in 1991.

The proportion of adults who have never married or been in a civil partnership has increased every decade, from 26.3 per cent in 1991 to 37.9 per cent in 2021.

The propor­tion of adults who have been mar­ried or in a civil partnership has fallen from 58.4 per cent in 1991 to 46.9 per cent in 2021. Among women aged be­­tween 25 and 29, the proportion de­­creased from 27.8 per cent in 2011 to 17.5 per cent in 2021.

The Census, which was the first since same-sex marriage was introduced in 2014, showed that adults in same-sex marriages and all civil partnerships make up less than 0.5 per cent of the population. Same-sex-married is the largest group, at 134,000 people; 67,000 are in same-sex civil partnerships; and 36,000 are in opposite-sex civil partnerships.

The median age of people in opposite-sex marriages increased to 55, and to 44 for people in same-sex marriages.

The proportion of adults who are divorced appears to have levelled out, after jumping from 6.2 per cent in 1991 to 9 per cent in 2011. The latest figures show only a slight increase to 9.1 per cent. Divorce among younger adults has decreased, but increased among the older generation. Adults in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships are more likely to be younger, have no religion, and have higher-level qualifications than adults in opposite-sex marriages.

Between 2011 and 2021, the number of widowed adults (three million) decreased by 6.3 per cent. Among women, it decreased by 8.3 per cent, but among men it actually increased slightly by 0.6 per cent.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, told The Guardian that Church of England research showed that most 18- to 35-year-olds hoped to marry, but saw it as the “crown” in their relationship, rather than the beginning. “I want to reassure couples that they don’t have to be churchgoers to have a church wedding, they don’t need to be christened, and we welcome couples who already have children,” he said.

“Mindful of the impact of the cost of living crisis, the General Synod has also backed plans to ensure that wedding fees rise well below the rate of inflation in 2023 [News, 17 February].”

Legal age for marriage raised. The statistics were published shortly before a new law increasing the legal age for marriage to 18 came into force in England and Wales on Monday. The Marriage and Civil partnerships (Minimum Age) Act seeks to prevent forced marriages.

Previously, people could be married at 16 or 17 if they had parental consent, and there was no law against ceremonies for younger children that were not registered with local councils. Until now, forced marriage was only an offence if coercion, such as threats, was used. Now, it is illegal to arrange for children to marry under any circumstances, whether or not force is involved. Offenders face up to seven years jail.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the minimum age for marriage remains 16. In Northern Ireland, parental consent is required for under-18s, but not in Scotland.

Payzee Mahmod, who had campaigned for the law change, told The Guardian on Monday that it was “probably one of the most important days of my life”. She was a child bride, and her sister Banaz was murdered in an “honour killing” after leaving her husband, whom she was forced to marry at 17. She said: “The onus is no longer on the child to have to speak up against their parents or their community when they are faced with child marriage.”

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