Opposite-sex marriage rate falls to “lowest on record”, says ONS

The marriage rate among opposite-sex couples has fallen to the lowest on record, official figures have revealed.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), just 242,842 marriages were registered in England and Wales in 2017 (the most recent available data), representing a decrease of 2.8 per cent from 2016, and a 45 per cent decrease since 1972.

The average marriage age among opposite-sex couples is also increasing. The date shows that marriage rates between men and women under 20 years old have recorded the largest percentage drop over the last 10 years – 57 per cent for men and 62 per cent for women. Meanwhile, marriage rates among those aged 65 years and over have increased the most.

It means that the average age for men marrying in 2017 was 38 years old, while for women it was 35.7

The data also shows that less than a quarter (22 per cent) of marriages in 2017 were classed as ‘religious ceremonies’ – the lowest percentage on record.

Elsewhere, 6,932 same-sex couples tied the knot in 2017, while 1,072 same-sex couples converted an existing civil partnership into a marriage – roughly similar numbers observed in 2016.

Commenting on the figures, Kanak Ghosh, of the ONS, said: “Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at the lowest level on record. This continues a gradual long-term decline seen since the early 1970s, with numbers falling by a third over the past 40 years.

“The popularity of religious ceremonies also fell to historic lows for the second year running, with fewer than one in four couples choosing to get married through a religious ceremony”.

The fall in marriage rates has sparked concerns that an increasing number of cohabiting couples are living without basic legal securities, such as sharing their partner’s estate and/or pension on death or separation. Experts are now urging unmarried couples to draft a cohabitation agreement, which can provide financial assurance for families.

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell.Solicitors in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.