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Marriage rate for opposite-sex couples in 2017 lowest on record

Only 22 per cent of all marriages were religious ceremonies

Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2017 were the lowest on record, with 21.2 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 19.5 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women. In total, there were 242,842 marriages in England and Wales in 2017, a decrease of 2.8 per cent from 2016. The figures have been released by the Office for National Statistics.

Less than a quarter (22 per cent) of all marriages in 2017 were religious ceremonies, the lowest percentage on record.

In 2017, there were 6,932 marriages of same-sex couples of which 56 per cent were between female couples; a further 1,072 couples converted their existing civil partnership into a marriage.

Nearly 9 in 10 (88 per cent) of opposite-sex couples cohabited before getting married in 2017; this proportion was slightly higher for couples who had a civil ceremony (90 per cent) compared with those who had a religious ceremony (81 per cent).

The average age at marriage of opposite-sex couples was 38.0 years for men and 35.7 years for women in 2017.

Zahra Pabani, a Family Law partner at Irwin Mitchell, reflecting on the decline in religious marriages, said:

"The new statistics are unsurprising given the shifts we're seeing as family lawyers in the way couples from religious backgrounds adapt to modern societal standards and a more challenging economic landscape.

"Times have moved on, and being a couple doesn't necessarily mean having a piece of paper to prove that. More couples are getting together from different religious backgrounds; while living together might be acceptable to traditional parents, getting married may be a step too far for the families – and so fewer religious ceremonies are taking place.

"There's also the rise in civil ceremonies to take into account – instead of being at the church or mosque, couples can get married pretty much anywhere they want to, which is just another example of how times have changed."

The drop reflects a long-term trend; while religious ceremonies accounted for 85 per cent of marriages in 1900, this had dropped to 49 per cent by the 1970s and continued to plummet. The stats also note that civil marriages have outnumbered religious marriages every year since 1992.

Irwin Mitchell also note that the expense of a ceremony might put couples off getting married, particularly when house prices are also at their highest-ever levels. Zoopla currently estimates the average property value to be around £320,000 as of April 2020, while the average wedding cost for the UK currently runs at over £30,000 according to bridal website Bridebrook's 2018 statistics.

Ms Pabani continued:

"It's a lot more difficult for people to get on the property ladder these days, and so couples might prioritise saving for a decent house deposit instead of an eye-wateringly expensive wedding – or even just wait until they're a bit older to get married, as there's no real rush, which is also reflected in the statistics.

"At the end of the day, times have changed but love is still love; couples can still be committed to one another, but without the ring and expense of a wedding."

For the full statistics, click here.