Two weddings but a funeral for marriage?

New statistics show marriage rates in steady decline. The latest figures are the lowest since records began over 100 years ago. Should we be worried?

Love is in the air, or marriage at least. This week, Labour leader Ed Miliband announced that he is to wed long-term partner Justine Thornton. The couple have two sons.

He claims it's 'the right time' to marry, having previously said he was 'too busy' to do so. They'll tie the knot at the end of May.

And before that, of course, there's the small matter of the royal wedding, as Prince William, second in line to the throne, marries Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey – a more traditional marriage story and ceremony.

The 1981 wedding between William's parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, was the most popular TV programme the world has ever known. Everyone loves a marriage, it seems.

Yet statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest otherwise, revealing that the number of couples getting hitched in England and Wales is at its lowest since records began in 1862.

Despite an increase in the number of legal marriage venues, the year on year decline has continued. A total of 231,490 couples wed in 2009 – down from 232,990 in 2008 and a substantial drop from the 1972 peak of 480,285.

The marriage rate is calculated by the number of marriages per head of the unmarried (single, divorced or widowed) population.In 2009 there were 21.3 men marrying per 1,000 unmarried adult men and 19.9 women marrying per 1,000 unmarried women over 16.

So why the slump in marriage? The ONS puts the decline down to the increasing number of people choosing to cohabit rather than marry. It also says that for various reasons, many now delay wedding plans.

Jenny North of Relate, a relationship support group, also sees this trend. 'Research shows that the aspiration to marry is still high amongst the younger generation,' she says, 'but fewer and fewer are fulfilling that aspiration. There is evidence couples are setting themselves a 'to-do' list before getting married.'

Wedding bells
With the average wedding now costing £20,000, couples may feel the money could be better spent elsewhere. Some, for instance, put having children before marriage, particularly if they are a couple in their thirties, facing declining fertility.

Others may want a home before settling down, and presently, the average couple buy their first property aged 37.

And then the increasing number of children of divorced parents may simply need more convincing it's a good idea.

This is not the end of marriage but it's an institution under stress. Wedding bells are not the draw they once were.

You Decide

  1. 'I can't see the point of marriage. It's just a word.' Do you agree?
  2. 'People should only get married for love.' Discuss.

Activities

  1. As part of the marriage ceremony, couples make promises or vows to each other. These sum up what the couple wish for and expect from the relationship. Write down the vows you'd like to make at your wedding.
  2. Compare the approach to marriage in two different cultures. Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses in each and then make your report.

Some People Say...

“Marriage? The hardest job in the world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So more people live together now?
They do, yes, but nearly a quarter of cohabiting couples with children get married by the child's fifth birthday.
But why get married?
There are many reasons: legal, social, emotional, economic, spiritual or religious. Though there's a slow move away from religious ceremonies in the UK. Civil ceremonies accounted for two-thirds of all weddings in 2009.
And gay people can get married now?
Not quite. Since 2005, they've been able to enter into civil partnerships. 6281 couples did this in 2009, which is 12% down on 2008. But controversially, in the eyes of the state, a civil partnership is not a marriage.A Not at all. It's a stable and trusting relationship between both parents and their children that matters – whatever name we give it.

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