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Popularity of marriage in continued decline

Latest statistics from ONS – decline in marriage

The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published its latest annual statistical bulletin giving estimates of population by legal marital status and cohabitation status by age and sex for England and Wales, for the year 2018. What does it tell us of relevance to family law?

The main points from the bulletin are listed by the ONS as follows:

  • The proportion of the population aged 16 years and over in England and Wales who are married has continued to decline in 2018 to 50.5%, down from 51.0% in 2017.
  • Whilst the proportion of the population under age 70 years who are married has declined, the proportion aged 70 years and over who are married has increased from 50.3% in 2008 to 55.8% in 2018.
  • The number of people aged 16 years and over who are single and have never married has continued to increase, rising by 369,000 from 2017 to a total of 16.7 million people (35.0%) in 2018.
  • The number of people aged 16 years and over who live with a partner and have never married has continued to increase, rising by 1.3 million people since 2008, to a total of 5.0 million (10.4%) in 2018.

Edward Morgan, of the Centre for Ageing and Demography at the ONS provides the following comment:

“In England and Wales, around half of the population aged 16 years and over were married in 2018. The proportion of people married has been in decline over the last decade, while the single population has been increasing.

“However, those in their 70s and beyond are seeing a different trend where, despite a modest rise in the divorced population, the proportion of people aged 70 years and over who are married has been increasing at a greater rate.”

Delving a little deeper, the bulletin tells us that whilst the size of the married population increased between 2008 and 2018, because of overall increases in population size, there has been a decline in the proportion of the population who are married. Since 2008, the proportion of married men has fallen by 1.8 percentage points, from 53.3% to 51.5%, and women by 1.3 percentage points from 50.8% to 49.5%. So yes, it does appear that the popularity of marriage is in a continued decline.

Age differences

We are also told that the decline in the proportion of the population who are married has not been consistent across all ages. The majority of the decrease has been concentrated between ages 20 to 34 years and 45 to 69 years. The ONS says that this pattern may be explained in part by the increasing trend for people at younger ages to postpone marriage, but also because increasing numbers of people are choosing not to get married at all. Bucking the trend, of course, are same-sex couples: between 2017 and 2018, the number of people in England and Wales in a same-sex marriage increased 78%, from around 68,000 to around 120,000.

There is also an interesting point relating to divorce: Whilst overall the proportion of the population who are divorced has remained broadly the same over time, the age profile of the divorced population has also shifted since 2008. A smaller share of people under the age of 55 years were divorced in 2018, whilst the share of the divorced population has risen for those aged 55 years and over. The ONS says that this could be partly because of people increasingly getting married later in life.

More couples cohabiting

Lastly, and perhaps of most significance, are the changes to patterns of living arrangements over the last decade. Here, the figures are separated into males and females. Nearly two per cent fewer males are living in a married or civil partner couple, compared to nearly one per cent fewer females. Meanwhile, around two per cent, more males and females are living in cohabiting couples. This clear trend for fewer marriages and more cohabiting must surely add further weight to the calls for the introduction of basic property rights for cohabiting couples.

You can read the full ONS statistical bulletin here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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