Marriage rates have been declining year on year for some time, with the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that only 213,000 heterosexual couples actually married in 2019. This represents a decrease of more than 50% since the peak in 1972.
That equates to just 18.6 marriages per 1,000 men and 17.2 per 1,000 women, the lowest figures since records began.
A growing number of couples are making a conscious decision not to marry despite being in a relationship where it is possible for them to do so. The concept of marriage is firmly entrenched in the idea of relationships – so why are more couples choosing to reject it?
The role of religion
Seemingly, religion plays a less significant role in modern marriages, with the ONS figures for 2019 showing that fewer than one in five heterosexual marriages was conducted on the grounds of being a religious ceremony. This means that there was no involvement of faith in the majority of marriages.
It’s worth noting that same-sex marriages have remained pretty consistent.
Why Are Marriage Rates Declining?
Experts suggest there are two main reasons. Firstly, there are fewer relationships which become serious enough. Modern dating is a highly complex, often turbulent activity and there is now less of a social expectation for every relationship to “lead somewhere”. Many people simply don’t reach the point where they feel comfortable committing to a lifelong union with a partner.
There are also many people who just don’t feel that marriage is right for them. Some people don’t see a purpose in marriage and would rather remain in successful long-term relationships without the extra level of commitment. Marriage no longer has the same sanctity that it once did and is sometimes viewed as primarily a religious practice. Not everybody is concerned with the religious connotations of marriage anymore, so they just don’t bother.
However, while some have rejected the idea of marriage entirely, others are simply delaying the event and statistics show a rise in people getting married later in life. Attitudes to cohabiting prior to marriage have changed dramatically over the past few decades and as a result, more and more couples are choosing to live together first whilst still intending to marry in the future. Cost can also be a factor; the average wedding now costs almost £30,000. For many couples this is a huge expense which will take time to save for, especially with competing saving priorities such as property deposits.
The decline in marriage rates can be attributable to a number of different factors. However, the primary reason is most likely that many people simply don’t feel the need to get married nowadays. With cohabitation now a completely acceptable alternative, and relationships often not lasting as long as they used to, marriage rates declining may just another sign of the changing times.
It is important to note that while cohabitation as an alternative to marriage is becoming more common, legally speaking there are very important differences between the two. In particular, married couples have various legal rights upon separation which cohabitees do not; this is true even if the couple has been cohabiting for a very extended period. There is no such thing as a “common law marriage” under UK law.
There are also some differences when it comes to children, for example in relation to parental responsibility for new fathers. For more information, see our infographic on common misconceptions about cohabitation.
To find out more about cohabitation, marriage and/or separation, book a free initial consultation with one of our experienced family solicitors.
Neil Scott Graham, a Partner at Grayfords comments as follows: “The Office for National Statistics website indicates two consistent trends over the last forty years; fewer people are choosing to get married each year and those who do are choosing to do so later in life. Statistics also indicate that home ownership rates are higher than they were 40 years ago whilst birth rates are only marginally lower. While some people now prefer to enter into a civil partnership as opposed to marriage increasing numbers of people are choosing less formulaic ways altogether of recognising their relationship and without the need to garner the approval of the State or to seek recognition via a religious faith system. The current legislation, however, still only provides the greatest level of statutory protection when relationships break down to those who are married or civilly partnered, with limited protection available to those who have children together and often complex trust and property issues facing those who have cohabited in a home owned by one or both parties.
It is prudent to seek advice at the beginning of a relationship to understand the difference in the levels of statutory protection currently available in the hopefully unlikely event of the relationship breaking down in the future.”