The number of couples getting married with religious ceremonies has fallen 6.2 per cent in a year.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed an increasing preference for civil ceremonies, especially those in approved premises such as stately homes and hotels.
Provisional statistics indicate that in 2011 in England and Wales there were 247,890 weddings, a 1.7 per cent rise from 243,808 the previous year. Of these, 174,600 were civil ceremonies, a 5.4 per cent rise, while religious weddings, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, correspondingly fell from 78,128 in 2010 to 73,290 in 2011.
Civil ceremonies now account for 70 per cent of all weddings, a rise from 64 per cent in 2001, and the proportion that took place in approved venues rose 14 per cent from 125,612 in 2010 to 143,220 in 2011.
“Following their introduction in 1995, there has been a continual increase in the proportion of marriages taking place in approved premises. This coincides with a rise in the number of approved premises licensed for weddings,” the ONS said in a statement.
Of the religious wedding ceremonies carried out in 2011, the latest year for which there are published figures, 53,700 were Church of England or Church of Wales, 8,240 were Roman Catholic, 8,680 were of other Christian denominations while 2,670 were for other religions including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism.
The number of women aged 16 or over getting married fell slightly from 20 per thousand to 19.8 but the number of men getting married remained constant at 20 per thousand.
The greatest number of marriages were for men and women aged 25 to 29 while the age group with the biggest percentage increase in the number of marriages from 2010 to 2011 was 6.5 per cent for women aged 55 to 59. The second biggest group was men aged 60 for whom there was a 6.5 per cent rise in marriages.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the figures were a reflection of the way modern society is moving away from religion.
“It’s an absolutely classic example of how society is changing,” he said. “There’s a general, overall change in attitudes to religion.”
“There have been other statistics, particularly the Census, showing a big change. It’s quite natural it would be reflected in the figures for marriage.”