Fewer straight couples are choosing to get hitched as marriage rates reach lall-time low since records began, with just 239,020 marriages between opposite-sex couples occurring in 2015.
The figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), indicate a decrease of opposite-sex marriage by 3.4% since 2014. It follows a gradual longterm decline in the popularity of marriage that has occurred since the 1970s, with a few fluctuations along the way, the researchers said.
Relationship experts believe the trend may be linked to the high cost of weddings in the UK, along with the diminishing societal pressure to get married.
The report is also the first ONS analysis to give a comprehensive look into rates of same-sex marriage. Marriage between same-sex couples has only been legal since 29 March 2014 and consequently, 2015 represents the first full year of data.
Same-sex marriages accounted for 2.6% of all marriages, with 6,493 taking place in 2015. More than half (56%) of these marriages were between female couples, while a further 9,156 same-sex couples converted their civil partnership into a marriage in 2015.
The ONS marriage data is gathered from information recorded when marriages are registered as part of civil registration, a legal requirement of marriage.
The findings indicate a dramatic move away from religious marriage ceremonies. While marriage rates among opposite-sex couples decreased overall, religious ceremonies decreased by 8% since 2014, while civil ceremonies decreased by 1.6%.
Same-sex couples also mostly celebrated their marriages with civil ceremonies. There were only 44 religious ceremonies accounting for 0.7% of all marriages between same-sex couples in 2015.
The average age when people choose to get married has also seen a “slight increase” since 2014. The average age of women marrying men in 2015 was 35.1 years, while the average age of men marrying women was 37.5 years. This is up from 34.6 years for women and 37.0 years for men in 2014.
Among same-sex couples, the average age for women getting married in 2015 was 37 years, while for men it was 40.6 years.
While marriage seems to be losing favour overall, it remains popular among older generations. The number of weddings actually increased for men aged 50 and over, and for women in the categories 35-39 years, and 45 years old and over.
Chris Sherwood, chief executive at relationship support charity Relate, said the overall trend away from marriage can be a positive thing as it reflects our growing sense of autonomy around relationships and the way we live our lives.
“When Relate was founded 80 years ago people got married, in part, because society expected them to. These same societal pressures don’t exist today and it’s to be celebrated that people now have far greater choice around how they form, structure and manage their relationships,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Research suggests that most people see little difference between marriage and living together so it’s perhaps not surprising that marriage rates are at an all-time low.”
He added the cost of marriage is likely to be a big deterrent, with “many young people prioritising education, starting a family, buying a house and going travelling over getting married”.
“This is reflected both in the rising average age of marriage and the fact that many people are choosing not to get married at all,” he said. “At Relate we know that it’s relationship quality that matters most and not whether you’re married or not.”
But, Graeme Fraser, a partner at law firm OGR Stock Denton LLP and national spokesperson on cohabitation for the Resolution family law organisation, warned if couples decide not to get married, they should take extra steps to safeguard their legal rights.
“If their relationship fails, cohabitees have extremely limited legal rights, in complete contrast to married or civil partnered couples. There is no automatic legal entitlement to any share in the family home for a non-owning partner where it has been purchased in the other partner’s name,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Cohabitants are also disadvantaged on death where no Will has been made, and experience a lack of financial security in terms of pension rights. Cohabitees can protect themselves by having a Cohabitation Agreement drawn up by a legal professional with both parties taking independent legal advice if possible. Cohabiting couples should always make Wills to protect the surviving cohabitant on death.”