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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2008, 16:55 GMT
Marriage rates lowest since 1862
Graph showing marriage rates
Marriage rates in England and Wales have fallen to the lowest level since records began in 1862, the Office for National Statistics said.

Provisional marriage figures for 2006 show that 23 out of 1,000 unmarried men were choosing to marry - down from 25 men per 1,000 the previous year.

The marriage rate for women fell from 22 to 21 per thousand for the period.

The number of marriages has been in decline. In 2006 there were 237,000 - the lowest annual number since 1895.

Marriage is in danger of being lost as the core institution of society
Jill Kirby, director, the Centre for Policy Studies
Jill Kirby, from the Centre for Policy Studies, the centre-right think tank, said: "It is obviously worrying that marriage rates have reached such a low ebb but it is not surprising in view of the lack of government policy encouraging marriage over the last 10 years."

She said the existing welfare system penalises against marriage.

"Marriage is in danger of being lost as the core institution of society. Research demonstrates how important marriage is to maintain the stability for children. The break-up of cohabiting couples is much higher than married couples," she added.

Religious decline

The popularity of marriage ceremonies in approved places such as hotels and stately homes continued in 2006.

Just over 95,300 marriages took place in such premises, accounting for 40% of all marriages, up from just 5% in 1996.

But the statistics also showed that the number of civil marriage ceremonies fell 3% from 2005 - from 162,169 to 157,490.

Civil ceremonies represented 66% of all ceremonies in 2006, up from 65% in 2005. In 1990 this figure was 47%.

Religious ceremonies also declined, falling by 7% to 79,490 compared with 2005.

Since 1991 this figure has halved compared with a fall in the number of all marriages of 23% in the same period.

Religious ceremonies accounted for 34% of all marriages in 2006.

Wedding rings in a church
The number of church weddings has declined

A Church of England spokesman said the number of Church of England marriages have fallen against a background of increasing choice for couples as to where they can marry.

He said the Church of England has responded with a new Marriage Measure that will expand the choice of churches where each couple can enjoy their special day later this year.

"That said, there are a complex range of factors influencing the continued trend of couples delaying marriage or avoiding it altogether, not least the mistaken idea that cohabitation is a form of marriage," said the spokesman.

"Marriage affirms the goodness and rightness of love between a man and a woman, affirms this in the public sphere, beyond private arrangements, and is the best option for couples to grow together in mutual support," he said.

First marriages

The new figures show that marriages that were the first for both parties in 2006 accounted for 61% of all marriages, while remarriages for both parties accounted for 18% - both figures about the same as in 2005.

There was also very little change in the average age at marriage between 2005 and 2006.

In 2006 the mean age for all marriages increased to 36.4 years for men - up from 36.2 in 2005, and 33.7 years for women (33.5 in 2005).

In 2006 the mean age at first marriage was 31.8 years for men and 29.7 years for women.

The number of ceremonies taking place in approved premises has continued to increase.

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