27/04/2011 11:58 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Marriage Rates Plummet - But Is It Good News For Couples?

Has the big white wedding fallen out of style? Photo: Getty

You wouldn't know it, what with all the hoo-ha about a certain royal wedding in a few days - not to mention the upcoming (separate!) unions of a certain supermodel and that fresh-faced Labour chap - but it seems that getting married is steadily going out of fashion.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics reveal that fewer people are tying the knot than at any time in the past 100 years. A total of 231,490 couples got married in 2009 - several thousand fewer than the previous year and the lowest total since 1895.

The marriage rate is calculated by the number of marriages per head of unmarried population – that means those who are single, divorced or widowed. There was a time when 50 out of every 1,000 unmarried women in the UK got married every year but in 2009, only 19.9 out of every 1,000 women and 21.3 men out of every 1,000 men tied the knot. Since 1981, the number of weddings conducted every year has fallen by a third.

We all know that more people are choosing to live together without the fuss and expense of making it "official". And with the cost of the average wedding now soaring beyond £20,000, who can blame them? But does it matter that marriage rates are on the slide?

The Economic and Social Research Council sought to examine this by asking couples to rate their happiness from the lowest score of "extremely unhappy" through the mid-point of "happy" to the highest score of "perfect". The results revealed that 90 percent of married women and 93 percent of married men were happy in their relationships, compared with 88 percent and 92 percent of cohabiting women and men.

So, while the vast majority of couples who live together, married or not, are happy in their relationship, those who are married are happier – by a whisker.

In depressing news for couples to whom these factors don't apply, the research also indicated that the happiest couples are those who have no children, have been together for less than five years and in which both partners are educated to degree level and the man is employed. But even once a range of factors impacting on happiness are accounted for, married people are still happier than their cohabiting counterparts.

Interestingly, divorce rates are also falling, meaning that although fewer couples are choosing to get married, those who do so are more likely to stay together.

The Office for National Statistics - them again - reported in February that UK divorce rates fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2009 (the latest year published), putting them at their lowest levels since 1974. There were 113,949 divorces in England and Wales that year - a 6.4 per cent drop on the previous year.

Good news for Kate and Wills? Have your say below.