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Trends in civil and religious marriages, 1966-2011

Two thirds of marriages in England and Wales are now civil ceremonies

Since the 1960s, the proportion of marriages in England and Wales that are religious ceremonies has decreased and the proportion of marriages that are civil ceremonies has increased. Civil marriages include ceremonies in register offices, as well as marriages in approved premises (such as hotels, stately homes or historic buildings), which have been allowed since the amendment of the Marriage Act in 1995.

Long-term trends by marriage type

Historic figures show that around 10% of marriages were civil ceremonies in 1872, rising to 20% by 1908 and 30% by 1963. During the 1960s and early 1970s the percentage of civil ceremonies rose, and by 1976 over half of marriages were civil ceremonies.

The proportion of religious marriages roughly equalled that of civil marriages during the 1980s, before starting to decrease again in the early 1990s. By 2011, less than 30% of marriages were religious marriages – the lowest percentage on record.

Since 1995, the percentage of marriages taking place in approved premises has increased steadily from 1% in 1995 to 58% of all marriages in 2011. For the seventh consecutive year, there were fewer religious ceremonies than ceremonies in approved premises.

Civil marriages in register offices have also fallen since 1995. In 2011, 13% of marriages took place in register offices, a level not seen since the 1880s.

Percentage of marriages by type, 1966-2011, England and Wales

Percentage of marriages by type, 1966-2011, England and Wales

Notes:

  1. Prior to 1962 figures are available for some but not all consecutive years.
  2. Figures for 2011 are provisional.
  3. A very small number of civil marriages take place to house-bound or detained people at the place where they live. These are included in the civil marriages in register offices category.

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First marriages and remarriages

Since the 1960s there has been an overall decrease in the percentage of marriages which are first marriages for both parties, but the trend differs between religious and civil marriages. In 1966, 95% of religious marriages were between people who had not been married before, a percentage which steadily decreased to 82% in 2011. This fall may be because it has become more acceptable for those who have previously been married to have a religious ceremony.

Meanwhile, 61% of civil marriages in 1966 were between partners who had not been married before. That proportion decreased sharply during the 1970s after the Divorce Reform Act came into effect. This Act made it easier for couples to divorce, leading many newly divorced people to remarry and pushing down the proportion of marriages between couples who had not previously been married.

Between 1996 and 2011, the proportion of civil marriages among couples who had not previously been married rose from 42% to 60%. One possible reason for this is that couples who have not been married before are younger on average than those who have been married before. Younger people are more likely to report having no religion than older people so approved premises provide an alternative to church weddings for the less religious who have not previously been married. Another reason may be that those who have been married before may choose to cohabit with a new partner rather than remarry.

Percentage of marriages which were first marriages for both partners by type of ceremony, 1966-2011, England and Wales

Percentage of marriages which were first marriages for both partners by type of ceremony, 1966-2011, England and Wales

Notes:

  1. Figures for 2011 are provisional.

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More couples cohabiting before marriage

In 1994, the earliest date for which figures are available, 75% of couples marrying in a civil ceremony lived together before getting married. This percentage increased steadily to 88% in 2011.

A lower percentage of couples having a religious marriage cohabited before marrying for all years. However the gap has narrowed over time. In 1994, 41% of couples having a religious ceremony lived together before marriage, almost doubling to 78% in 2011.

Other statistics show that the number of couples cohabiting in the UK has doubled since 1996, illustrating that cohabitation is now more common, both as a precursor and an alternative to marriage.

Percentage of couples who cohabit before marriage by type of ceremony, 1994-2011, England and Wales

Percentage of couples who cohabit before marriage by type of ceremony, 1994-2011, England and Wales

Notes:

  1. Figures for 2011 are provisional.
  2. 1994 was the first year in which more information was extracted from the copies of marriage entries and routinely added to the marriages computer database.

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Categories: Population, Families, Marriages, Cohabitations, Civil Partnerships and Divorces, Marriages
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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