Number of religious marriage ceremonies falls to an all time low

(Photo: Samantha Gades)

Weddings are becoming increasingly secular as new figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that the percentage of religious ceremonies in the UK has fallen to a record low. 

According to the figures out Thursday, the number of couples tying the knot in a religious ceremony fell to its lowest ever in 2016 (24 per cent).

Religious marriage ceremonies fell by 4.1% on the previous year and by nearly half (48%) the percentage of couples who opted for a religious ceremony two decades ago.

"This is partly due to the long-term decline in the overall number of all marriages but also the rise in popularity of civil marriage ceremonies," the report said.

"In 2016, for the first time on record, there were more than three times as many civil marriage ceremonies as there were religious ceremonies." 

2016 saw only a tiny increase in the number of couples deciding to marry, up 1.7 per cent on 2015 but down 1 per cent from 2014's figures. 

By comparison, the number of couples who chose to have a civil marriage increased by 3.6 per cent compared with 2015.

At the same time, the percentage of same-sex couples rose by 8.1 per cent between 2015 and 2016. 

Marriage rates for heterosexual couples in 2016 were lower across all age categories compared with 2006, except for men aged 60 years and over, and women aged 50 years and over. 

"Marriage rates remain at historical lows despite a small increase in the number of people who got married in 2016," said Kanak Ghosh, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics.

"Most couples are preferring to do so with a civil ceremony and for the first time ever, less than a quarter of everyone who married had a religious ceremony. Meanwhile, the age at which people are marrying continues to hit new highs as more and more over 50s get married."

Responding to the statistics, Harry Benson from the Marriage Foundation said: "Low marriage rates show how much we have lost confidence in marriage. And yet today's marriages are as strong as ever.

"Divorce rates are at their lowest in fifty years. Eight out of ten couples are married. And nine out of ten couples who are still together by the time their children are teenagers are married.

"All relationships are fragile. But a happy marriage gives couples and their children the best possible outcomes. We should be shouting this from the rooftops."