100-year-low: Britons eschew marriage

Fewer people are tying the knot
than at any time for more than a century, figures released today reveal.

A total of 232,990 couples were
married in 2008, figures from the Office for
National Statistics
show. This is the lowest number of people opting for
wedded bliss since 1895 and represents a drop of 1 per cent in 12 months from
235,370 in 2007.

The marriage rate, calculated as
the number of marriages per head of population, fell to its lowest level since
records began in 1862.

In 2008 there were 21.8 men
marrying per 1,000 unmarried adult men, down from 22.4 in 2007, and 19.6 women
marrying per 1,000 unmarried women over 16, down from 20.2 in 2007.

Like the rest of Europe, Britons
have been falling out of love with matrimony. Instead of marrying, the trend
has been towards cohabitation. Within five years the majority of British babies
are expected to be born to unmarried parents.

Men and women also marry later, ­indicating
that a career might be needed to pay for a honeymoon. Since 1998 the average
age at first marriage has increased by about three years for both men and
women.

In 2008 the provisional mean age at
marriage for never-married men was 32.1 years. The provisional mean age for never-married
women was 29.9 years.

The figures, covering England and
Wales, are likely to relight the debate over the decline of marriage in modern
society.

The Conservatives have sought to
become a party of values not morality by promoting marriage through a tax break
for ­married couples and gay civil partners. By contrast Labour and the Liberal
Democrats refuse to favour marriage over unmarried cohabitation.

Samantha Callan, the family and society policy
specialist at the Centre for Social Justice, Iain Duncan Smith’s thinktank, who
is credited with creating the “tax break for marriage”, says that by ­eschewing
a legal union many are being “shortchanged by political correctness”.

She said research conducted at the
centre showed that children not brought up in a two-parent family were 75 per
cent more likely to fail at school. “What is stopping ­people is the
social bragging rights that come attached with not being married. But the fact
is people are two and a half times more likely split up if they cohabit than if
they marry.”

The reason people do not marry,
says Anastasia de Waal at the thinktank Civitas, is economics. “Labour
thinks unmarried parents are choosing not to marry on the grounds of
‘progressive’ values. The Tories think unmarried parents are choosing not to
marry because they don’t value marriage. For many ‘choice’ has nothing to do
with it. It’s about economics,” she said.

“We know that there is a very
strong relationship between unemployment and non-marriage. Therefore the number
one priority for any government interested in marriage and family stability
should be getting people into work.”

Although much has been made of the
revival of the white church wedding, the national statistic figures tell a
different story. The number of religious ceremonies in 2008 was 76,200, a
decrease of 3.1 per cent compared with 2007.

The Church of England, however,
pointed out that while the share of religious weddings has gone down, the share
of C of E weddings has remained stable at 24 per cent.

“Many churches are inviting
parishioners to celebrate marriage on Sunday at special services using new
liturgy for Valentine’s Day,” said a spokesman.

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