Heterosexual marriages and religious wedding ceremonies fall to record low

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The number of heterosexual couples getting married in England and Wales and those opting for a religious ceremony have fallen to their lowest levels on record.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there were 234,795 marriages in England and Wales in 2018, down 3.3% on the year before and the lowest since 2009.

Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2018 were the lowest on record, with 20.1 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 18.6 per 1,000 unmarried women.

The ONS said this could be explained by more people choosing to cohabit or wed later in life.

"This long-term decline is a likely consequence of increasing numbers of men and women delaying marriage, or couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative," it said.

Commenting on the data, Kanak Ghosh, of the ONS' Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, said, "Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples were the lowest on record in 2018, while the total number of marriages fell for the third consecutive year in a row.

"This continues the gradual long-term decline in both numbers and rates since the early 1970s. Despite this overall decline, more people are choosing to get married at older ages, particularly those aged 65 and over."

Figures also suggest fewer people are opting for the traditional church wedding, with only around a fifth (21.1%) of heterosexual couples in 2018 choosing a religious ceremony - the lowest on record.

"The popularity of religious marriages has decreased steadily over time," the ONS said.

"In 1900, religious ceremonies accounted for 84.7% of all marriages; by 1980 this had fallen to 50.4%. Since 1992, civil marriages have increasingly outnumbered religious marriages every year."

Responding to the figures, Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation said the decline was "disappointing" but "needs to be set in context".

"These figures look worse because of the increase in marriages we saw in 2016 and 2017," he said.

"The divorce rate is at its lowest level in 30 years, suggesting those who get married are much more likely to stick together and marriage remains the most stable form of relationship, especially when you factor in children."

He added: "Marriage is a good idea and it works better than any alternative. Yet successive governments have exacerbated the trend away from marriage. They should be ashamed of this national scandal and make reversing this trend a national priority."