Married people now make up less than half of all over-16s, partly because people marry later in life, a new report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) claims.
Recent years have seen a steady decline in the proportion of over-16s who are married, with numbers falling by between 100,000 and 150,000 each year since 1995.
The proportion was 50.3 per cent in 2005 – the latest year for which exact figures are available – leading statisticians to project that the figure for 2006 will have dropped to below half.
However, the ONS report says that the reduced proportion of married people in the adult population is partly due to the fact that many are marrying later.
“The latest projections of the population by marital status suggest that although the proportion of married people in the population will fall, still a substantial proportion of people will marry eventually,” the report explains.
Married people still vastly out-number divorcees or those choosing to cohabit. Over 21 million people aged over 16 were married in 2005. Just 4 million were divorced and 3.3 million were widows or widowers.
Other figures from the ONS show that married couples outnumber cohabiting couples six to one. Most cohabiting couples will go on to marry eventually.
Whilst marriage remains extremely popular, observers are concerned at the falling numbers.
Robert Whelan, of the Civitas think tank, warned that the decline in marriage would be harmful for society. “We are looking at a future in which fewer and fewer people will live as married couples,” he said.
“All the consequences will be seen in terms of poorer health, lower incomes, more benefit dependency, increased drug and alcohol abuse, and growing crime and anti-social behaviour. Unfortunately no-one in Government seems to care enough to do anything about it.”