More ‘I don’ts’, then ‘I do’s’

People who never marry will
outnumber wedded couples for the first time within a generation, report shows.

The number of adults who do not get
married will soar by almost half in the next 25 years, and will be accompanied
by a 65 per cent increase in the number of cohabiting couples, according to the
UK’s national statisticians.

Middle-aged women in particular
will see a sharp change, with numbers not married trebling by 2033.

The projections suggest a changing
face for the average household as separate figures also showed up to a third of
children now live with just one parent.

And an expanding older generation
means the number of pensioners who are divorced is set to double.

Family campaigners said the trend
presents a “bleak picture” and warned children are likely to suffer as they
will be at more risk of being in a less stable household.

The figures will reignite concerns
that the significance of traditional families is being weakened including proposed
changes that give unmarried couples the same rights as married ones in several
areas of law and benefits.

In 2008 there were 15.3 million
people in England and Wales who had never married – making up 35 per cent of
the adult population.

In contrast, 21.7 million – or 49
per cent – were married. The figures excluded those who are divorced or
widowed.

But projections by the Office for
National Statistics suggest that by 2033 some 22.7 million people will not have
married, compared with 22.2 million who will have.

It means within 25 years,
accounting for population growth, some 43 per cent of adults will have never
married compared with just 42 per cent who are in wedlock.

Among those who will have not
married by 2033 will be 3.8 million couples who live together, the ONS suggest
which will be a two-thirds rise on the current 2.3 million cohabiting
households.

Anastasia de Waal, the director of
family and education at Civitas, a think tank, said: “It is a bleak picture.

“We know that cohabiting in this
country does not reflect marriage and is less stable than marriage.

“If we see a proliferation of
cohabiting then we will see a decline in stable relationships and that has major
implications for children, who are more likely to face separation.

“The picture is not a happy one if
this is the case.”

The figures were published
alongside the ONS Population Trends document, which revealed 30 per cent of
dependent children live in a home where there is only one parent.

It is the equivalent of 3.8 million
children in a lone parent household or where parents live apart or have new
partners.

Hugh McKinney, of the National
Family Campaign, said: “Time is running out for the family.

“Successive governments have
ensured that the focus on the family has changed from marriage to non-marriage
and it is about time that the balance was redressed.”

A spokesman for the Church of
England added that marriage was still the “bedrock of society”.

“Most people still expect to marry
at some stage in their lives,” he said.

“The Church of England supports
marriage and works to enhance the quality of people’s marriages and family
lives through marriage preparation, meaningful wedding ceremonies, parenting
support and work with children in schools and the wider community.”

Last year, the Law Commission, the
Government’s law advisers, proposed that unmarried couples who live together
for two years will be automatically entitled to half their partner’s estate if
they die without a will.

The move would end
rules dating back more than 80 years, and give most partners who do not marry
the same rights as bereaved spouses.

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