Marriage rates at new low

May 24, 2022

Marriage rates in England and Wales hit a new low in 2019 whilst cohabitation rates are on the rise, new official figures show.

Data analysed by the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2019 there were 18.6 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 17.2 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women. This is equivalent to around 1.9% of unmarried men and 1.7% of unmarried women getting married that year. Both figures were the lowest since 1862, when these records began.

People are also delaying marriage till later. The average age at marriage in 2019 was 34.3 for men and 32.3 for women, a record high and up from 31.6 and 29.4 respectively in 1999, and 23.7 and 21.8 in 1969. These figures are for male-female couples.

In just one year, from 2018-19, the total number of marriages dropped by 6.5%, down to 219,850. This is half its peak in 1972, despite the population growing in the same period, meaning the marriage rate is roughly a quarter of what it was. The ONS says this is as a result of “couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative”.

This is bad news for adults and children, as cohabitation – even cohabitation first before marriage – ends in much higher break up rates.

It leads to more children without a mum and dad.

The cost of family breakdown to public funds is £51 billion a year, according to the Relationships Foundation’s 2018 study. This is a huge figure – and it doesn’t include emotional harms, such as the toll on children that has a knock-on effect on achievement and well-being.

The Government should look at these figures with alarm and consider what policies might help to turn the tide. Increasing the meagre married persons tax allowance, to make marriage more financially beneficial, would be a good place to start.