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Marriage rate falls to record low

Falling marriage rate demands changes to law on unmarried couples, says Resolution

The Office for National Statistics has released provisional figures for the number of marriages registered in England and Wales in 2008. Although the number has remained stable compared with 2007, a rise in the number of unmarried adults has resulted in provisional 2008 marriage rates representing the lowest since they were first calculated in 1862.

The provisional marriage rate for men in 2008 was 21.8 men marrying per 1,000 unmarried men aged 16 and over, compared with 22.4 in 2007 and 31.1 in 1998. The provisional marriage rate for women in 2008 was 19.6 women marrying per 1,000 unmarried women aged 16 and over, compared with 20.2 in 2007 and 26.6 in 1998.

The provisional number of marriages registered in England and Wales in 2008 was 232,990. It is estimated that a further 1 per cent of 2008 marriage returns will be received over the next year allowing final figures to be published in spring 2011.

Marriages have experienced a long term decline over recent decades, although between 2002 and 2004 marriages increased. This was followed by a fall in marriages to 2007. It is therefore expected that final 2008 marriage figures will be similar in total to 2007 (235,370). However the 2008 total currently represents the lowest numbers of marriages in England and Wales since 1895 (228,204).

Resolution has responded to the figures by renewing its call for unmarried couples to be granted legal rights. Vice Chairman David Allison said that the need to bring in legal protection for this growing group of people is overwhelming:

“A smaller percentage of people got married in got married in 2008 than in any year since records began and at the same time the number of couples living together outside of marriage is on the increase. Yet the majority of people don’t understand that living together does not give them any financial protection should the relationship end, which leaves countless people vulnerable to financial hardship if their relationship breaks down”.

Resolution is calling for a new law that would ensure that both members of a couple would be treated fairly should they split up, without equating living together to marriage or civil partnership, and would provide a safety net for vulnerable people who have made career or financial sacrifices for the sake of their relationship.

The statistics can be accessed here. For the full text of Resolution's response click here.