Marriages on rise for first time in a decade

Weddings make a comeback, while Catholics working in the legal profession are given a hardline message
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The Independent Online

An increase in second marriages has led to a rise in thenumber of weddingsfor the first time since 1992.

While the proportion of marriage services involving first-time couples fell to 58 per cent in 2000, the total number of weddings rose by 2 per cent. In 23 per cent of cases at least one partner was divorced or widowed, while in 19 per cent both partners were remarrying.

The figures were published as a scientist suggested that married workers were likely to earn between 10 and 20 per cent more than their single counterparts, as well as enjoying better health and greater life expectancy.

The Office for National Statistics reported that 267,961 couples tied the knot in the first year of this century, almost 5,000 more than the previous year, but still considerably less than the 331,150 who chose to marry in 1990. The statistics also showed there were now more eligible men, whether bachelors or divorcees, seeking their ideal mate. While the ratio of women marrying increased for the first time in eight years, men saw a downward trend. In 2000, 27.7 men per 1,000 married, compared with more than 28 in 1999, while 25.8 women wed – a 0.2 rise.

According to Professor Andrew Oswald, of Warwick University, marriage is not only good for you but profitable. A married worker in Britain earns an average of £3,000 more than a single person with similar qualifications.

Professor Oswald said: "[With] people in their early twenties, those who are married earn barely more than singles. It appears that the 'marriage wage premium' actually gets stronger through time as the years pass and the marriage gets longer.

"This suggests that marriage is more a cause than an effect of higher pay."

The economics professor suggested one factor might be a man or woman working harder to impress their spouse.

He added: "Evolutionary biologists are fond of reminding economists that they think Darwin explains everything; deep down, human beings are just nest-builders and mate-chasers."

While the figures from the Office for National Statistics showed men and women continued to wait longer to marry for the first time – the average age for males was 30 and females 28 – Professor Oswald insisted wedlock was an option worth taking seriously.

The "protective effect on mental wellbeing", he said, was likely to mean a married person outlived his or her single counterpart by three years.

"That appears especially true for women. Even we have been startled by the size of the marriage effect on mortality risk. It appears in some cases to be nearly as large as the risk from smoking."

While marriages were on the up again, religious weddings continued to fall and accounted for little more than a third of ceremonies. A decade ago more than half of marriages were solemnised in a house of God.

More than one in four couples who opted for a civil ceremony chose to shun a register office in favour of an approved hotel or stately home. There has been a boom since the Marriage Act 1994, which allowed local authorities to license "approved premises", a trend expected to grow with the recent announcement that couples will be free to marry almost anywhere under proposals to overhaul civil weddings.

The ONS also released figures showing life expectation continued to increase, while there remained a stark contrast between social classes.

Professional men could now expect to live to 78.5 years – 6.5 years more than in 1972, while women of the same social standing saw their average life span jump 3.6 years to 82.8 years.

Men in unskilled jobs could expect to live to 71.1 years. The gap between the classes widened from a difference of 5.5 years in 1972 but was less than it had been in the early 1990s.