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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 15:10 GMT
More are marrying, figures reveal
Wedding ring
More couples now are living together before they get married
Marriages in England and Wales have increased for a second year, the Office for National Statistics has revealed.

In 2003, 4.7% more couples tied the knot than in 2002. It comes after numbers fell to a 104-year low in 2001.

But the ages of couples getting married for the first time has increased - men on average now get hitched at 31.2 years old and women at aged 28.9.

Civil marriages now constitute more than two-thirds of all ceremonies - 15% more than in 1993.

Oliver Wright, who compiled the statistics, said the number of marriages were beginning to rise again after years of decline.

"In 2001 the figures dropped to 249,227, which was the lowest since 1897," he said.

"There was a blip in 2000 when marriages increased, but the trend has been downward since the early 1970s."

Wedding cake
In 2003 267,700 couples married, compared to 255,596 in 2002
The average age for getting married - either first or second time - for men is 35.6 and women 32.9
In 2003, 19% of marriages were couples re-marrying, a 1% increase on 2002
68% of all ceremonies were civil weddings

In 1972, nearly 430,000 couples tied the knot, but the numbers gradually fell over the decades, as divorces soared and living together became more socially acceptable for couples.

Mr Wright said couples are now waiting longer before marrying because many live together before walking down the aisle.

"There's been a gradual increase in the age people get married," he continued.

"The average age for men getting married for the first time in 1972 was 24.9 and 22.9 for women. The overall figure for all marriages was 28.8 for men and 26.2 for women, so there has been a steady increase."

It comes after the Church of England launched a relationship "MoT" handbook, to help marrieds-to-be prepare for their wedding day.

"Growing Together" identifies key areas couple need to tackle to make sure their marriage lasts - including children, money, commitment, sex, conflict, faith and families.

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