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Marriage rates continue to decline

Estimated read time: 4 mins

Carrie Tennick, September 13, 2019

Marriage is continuing to fall in popularity among those aged 16 and older in England and Wales, according to the latest research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, the same is not true for those aged 70 and older, who are increasingly tying the knot.

Younger people preferring not to marry

Between 2017 and 2018, the rates of married couples among those aged 16 to 70 fell from 51% to 50.5%. The numbers of those who have never been married has continued to rise over the last decade.

In 2018, the proportion of people who have never been married reached 16.7 million (35%). This was a rise of 369,000 from 2017.

But it’s not relationships in general that are falling out of favour. People are increasingly choosing to live with their partner while deciding not to get married. The numbers of people living with a partner but who have never been married in England and Wales reached 5 million in 2018, rising by a huge 1.3 million since 2008.

Meanwhile, between 2017 and 2018, the number of same-sex marriages rose from 68,000 to 120,000. The ONS explained that the relatively recent introduction of same-sex marriage is likely responsible for this increase among a backdrop of declining marriage rates.

Age proves a factor

Among the biggest factors affecting the rates of marriage is age. The age group with the highest proportion of married people has changed in the last decade, though. In 2008, the highest number of married people were found among those aged 60 to 64, at 74.8%. In 2018, this had shifted to those aged 55 to 59, with 69% married.

But this is fewer than there were in 2008, when 73.8% of this age group were married. According to the ONS, this reflects “the overall decline in the relative size of the married population”.

The ONS also highlighted that the fall in the proportion of married people “has not been consistent across all ages”, with the highest decreases found among those aged 20 to 34 and 45 to 69. The organisation suggested that this could be down to “the increasing trend for people at younger ages to postpone marriage and increasing numbers of people choosing not to get married at all”.

However, those aged 70 and older were increasingly likely to be married. This is particularly true for those aged 80 to 84. In 2008, 41.4% of this age group was married, while 51.1 were married in 2018. With an ageing population, there is the possibility of this trend continuing.

Men more likely to be single

The number of single people – those who have never been married – rose by 0.6% to reach 34.4% in 2018. This is representative of an ongoing trend from the last decade, which has seen the number of single men rise by 2.3% since 2008, while the number of single women has increased by 2.5%.

Men were found to be more likely to be single than women in 2018, at 38.4% compared to 31.7% in 2018. This is partly due to the fact there are more men than women under the age of 30 in England and Wales.

Edward Morgan, from the ONS’ Centre for Ageing and Demography, said: “In England and Wales, around half of the population aged 16 years and over were married in 2018. The proportion of people married has been in decline over the last decade, while the single population has been increasing.

“However, those in their 70s and beyond are seeing a different trend where, despite a modest rise in the divorced population, the proportion of people aged 70 years and over who are married has been increasing at a greater rate.”

Implications of falling marriage rates

One of the implications of falling marriage rates is the fact that romantic partners may not be provided for in the event of death. This means that in order to ensure that your wishes for your loved ones are adhered to, it’s vital to make a will. If you die without a legally valid will while unmarried, your partner will not automatically inherit anything.

If you need advice on any aspect of family law – from prenuptial agreements to divorce – First4Lawyers can help. Just give us a call, request a call back at the top of your screen or make an enquiry here.