The rate of marriages in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1862, provisional figures show.
In 1995 marriage rates were 34.7 per 1,000 men and 29.3 per 1,000 women. By 2006, these had dropped to 22.8 for men and 20.5 for women, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Divorces fell by 8 per cent between 2004 and 2005. Of the 142,000 couples who were divorced in 2005, 67 per cent had children.
Despite the fall in the marriage rate, marriage remains incredibly popular. Married couples outnumber co-habiting couples by six to one in the UK. Most people get married and most marriages last for life.
Statistics suggest that living together turns out to be a forerunner rather than an alternative to marriage. One seven-year study of 10,000 British adults concluded: “Cohabiting unions last only a short time before being converted into marriage or dissolving: their median length is about two years.”
Married families remain the most stable environment for raising children. Unmarried couples are six and a half times more likely than married couples to split up following the birth of a child.
On a range of social indicators the children of married couples generally have much better outcomes in life. In general they have better health, do better at school, are safer from child abuse, and have fewer behavioural problems.