Marriage rates lowest since records began

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The Independent Online

Marriage rates have fallen to the lowest level since records began, according to figures released today.

Provisional figures for 2006 published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal the number of marriages fell 4 per cent to 236,980 compared to the previous year.

The marriage rate for men over 16 was 22.8 per 1,000, and for women 20.5; the lowest rate since 1862.

This is the culmination of a steady decrease in the number of marriages in recent decades, bar a brief rise between 2002 and 2004.

The average age for those getting hitched has gone up by around five years since 1991, and in 2006 the average age for a first marriage was 31.8 for men and 29.7 for women.

The figures also reveal that more people are getting remarried.

Since 1981, the number of unions that were the first for both people has fallen by more than a third, accounting for 61 per cent of marriages in 2006.

Remarriages have fallen by a quarter in the 25 years to 2006.

Since 1992 there have been more civil ceremonies in the UK than religious.

The 2006 figures show that 66 per cent of ceremonies were civil, up 1 per cent on the previous year and up from 47 per cent since 1990.

Religious ceremonies continued to decline in popularity, down 7 per cent since 2005 and by half since 1991. Over the same 25-year period the total number of marriages fell 23 per cent.

Additional finalised figures for 2005, also published today, show that the sharpest fall in the number of marriages occurred in London (29 per cent) and the smallest in the North East (3%).

Divorce rates also fell by 8% compared to 2004.

The decrease in the number of marriages has been partly put down to a change in the law in February 2005, designed to crack down on "sham" marriages carried out for purposes such as securing a visa.