Fewer people are getting married but divorce rates have risen tenfold, new data reveals

New ONS study reveals how life in England and Wales has drastically changed over 50 year period

Olivia Petter
Tuesday 10 August 2021 09:42 BST

It will come as no surprise that life in the UK has changed dramatically since 1961, but a new 50-year study has revealed just how much society has shifted in terms of marriage and divorce.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which gathered census data between 1961 and 2011 in England and Wales, fewer people are getting married than they were back then, but many more are getting divorced.

In 1961, the census found that 68 per cent of people aged 16 and over were married, while just 0.8 per cent were divorced.

In 2011, however, 49 per cent of people aged 16 years and over were found to be married or in a same-sex civil partnership, and nine per cent were either divorced or in a legally dissolved civil partnership.

The ONS points out that census figures offer only a “snapshot” of societal trends.

“So they can’t tell us how many times someone has been married or in a civil partnership,” the organisation adds, “but the differences between these figures for 1961 and 2011 reflect a period of stark social change”.

One reason for the major change could simply be down to the way in which the legal system has changed and updated in recent years.

“By 2011, divorce law had become less stringent, civil partnerships for same-sex couples had existed for six years and people who were separated but legally married could record this on the census, options that were not available in 1961,” the ONS states.

“To allow comparison between years, we have included separated but legally married people as ‘married’ in 2011.”

As for how the data differed between areas, the ONS found that the proportion of people married in 2011 was lower in almost every area in England and Wales bar just a handful of rural districts, including Clitheroe and Blackburn, where marriage rates were up by eight and four per cent, respectively.

“Most of these areas, and the places that saw the smallest reduction in marriage, were rural, possibly because of communities being typically older,” the ONS said.

The ONS data also found that in the 1960s, seven per cent of homes did not have a lavatory inside. However, this surged in some rural areas, such as Mitford and Launditch in Norfolk, where more than half of all homes did not have an indoor lavatory.

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