- In 2012, the provisional number of marriages in England and Wales increased by 5.3% to 262,240, from 249,133 in 2011.
- Civil ceremonies accounted for 70% of all marriages that took place in 2012, an increase from 66% in 2002.
- The greatest number of marriages was for men and women aged 25 to 29.
- The mean age at marriage in 2012 was 36.5 years for men and 34.0 years for women. The mean age at marriage has increased by almost eight years for both men and women since 1972.
- The largest percentage increase in the number of marriages between 2011 and 2012 was for men and women aged 65 to 69, rising by 25% and 21% respectively.
This bulletin presents provisional annual statistics for marriages that took place in England and Wales in 2012. The statistics do not include marriages to residents of England and Wales that took place abroad, but do include marriages that took place in England and Wales to non-residents. The statistics are derived from information recorded when marriages are registered as part of civil registration, a legal requirement.
Marriage statistics are analysed by sex, age, period of occurrence, previous marital status, type of ceremony, religious denomination and area of occurrence.
Marriage statistics for 2012 are rounded and provisional. Figures for 2012 will be finalised in early 2015 when the majority of marriage returns have been received from register offices and the clergy. In 2011, the number of marriages in England and Wales increased by over 1,200 (0.5%) between the provisional first release of figures and the finalised statistics.
This is the first time that ONS has published final 2011 and provisional 2012 marriage statistics for England and Wales.
The publication of Marriages in England and Wales (provisional) 2012 is later than originally planned. Changes in data collection methodology (see background note 3) required more time to be spent on detailed quality assurance. Once the new data collection processes are well established, ONS hope to bring forward the release of final annual marriage statistics to around 15 months after the end of the data year. This would mean that final annual figures would be released around the time that provisional figures are currently published, and the provisional publication would be discontinued. ONS will monitor the receipt of marriage registrations over the next year to determine whether such a change is possible.Back to table of contents
The provisional number of marriages registered in England and Wales rose by 5.3% in 2012 to 262,240, compared with 249,133 in 2011. This increase in the provisional marriage figure for 2012 continues the recent upward trend, following the low recorded for 2009.
Figure 1 shows the changing trends in the number of marriages and divorces since 1932. The sharp increase in marriages observed around 1940 can be attributed to the start of the Second World War. The number of males aged under 20 and 20 to 24 marrying increased by 77% and 48% respectively between 1938 and 1940. Following this rise, the number of marriages declined during the war period of 1941 to 1943 but began to rise again towards the end of the war; the number of marriages increased by 31% between 1944 and 1945, before remaining relatively stable to 1947.
The number of marriages generally declined between 1947 and 1957, before rising until 1972. This rise was partly a consequence of the increasing population over the same period. As the rate of population increase slowed, the number of marriages continued to increase, but at a reduced rate. Overall, a long-term decline in the number of marriages was recorded between 1972 and 2009, a likely consequence of two related socio-behavioural shifts. Firstly, the increasing numbers of men and women delaying marriage, or not marrying at all. Secondly, the increasing number of couples cohabiting rather than entering into marriage, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative ( Wilson and Smallwood, 2007 (562.2 Kb Pdf) ).
Over the past 20 years, there has been a rise in the number of cohabiting adults in the UK. The number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased significantly between 2002 and 2012, from 2.1 million to 2.9 million (Families and Households, 2012). Attitudes towards cohabitation have also changed. The 2006 British Social Attitudes survey found two thirds of respondents thought there was ‘little difference socially between being married and living together as a couple’ (Beaujouan and Bhrolcháin, 2011).
It is not possible to determine at this stage whether the rising number of marriages between 2009 and 2012 is indicative of an end to the long term decline between 1972 and 2009. Possible factors which may have influenced the increasing number of marriages in England and Wales in recent years include:
Changes in the number of residents of England and Wales marrying abroad. Estimates derived from the International Passenger Survey suggest there was a fall in the number of UK residents marrying abroad from 92,000 in 2009 to 55,000 in 2011. Marriages that would otherwise have occurred abroad may have taken place in England and Wales instead. In 2012 however, marriages abroad were estimated to have risen back up to 89,000. These estimates are based on a very small number of interviews and so the standard errors on the estimates are correspondingly high
The Certificate of Approval Scheme was abolished in May 2011. This will have made it easier for legitimate marriages involving persons subject to immigration controls to take place
The economic downturn in 2008/9 which may have delayed marriages due to financial constraints, changes in employment and related lifestyle changes
Marriages to an increasing number of couples who decided to cohabit as a precursor to marriage. Research suggests that around 40% of cohabiting couples are estimated to marry within 5 years (based on cohabiting unions which started between 2000 and 2004) (Beaujouan and Bhrolcháin, 2011).
The largest percentage decline in the number of marriages since 1972 was recorded between 2004 and 2005, when the number of marriages fell by 9.3%. This could be related to the introduction of the Certificate of Approval Scheme included in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, which was introduced on 1 February 2005 to prevent the use of marriage to circumvent UK immigration control (‘sham marriages’). The scheme made it increasingly difficult for a sham marriage to take place and could therefore have reduced the number of such marriages. In addition there may have been people marrying legitimately who were either deterred from marrying or whose marriage was delayed by the legislation. These measures were abolished in May 2011. Entering into a sham marriage does not entitle migrants to any right to remain in the UK. The Home Office continues to investigate suspected abuse with assistance from Registrars and members of the clergy, disrupting marriages where possible, before they take place. See background note 7 for more information on these changes to marriage legislation.Back to table of contents
The General Marriage Rate (GMR) referred to in this bulletin shows the number of men or women marrying per thousand unmarried men or women aged 16 and over. The GMR takes account of changes in the size of the unmarried adult population in England and Wales, as well as the number of marriages.
Changes in the size of the unmarried population are determined by patterns of marriage, divorce, mortality and migration. While the actual number of males and females getting married in a particular year is equal, the number of unmarried males and females in the population will differ, hence the different rates.
The provisional male GMR in 2012 was 23.2 men marrying per thousand unmarried men aged 16 and over, compared with 22.1 in 2011 and 27.4 in 2002. The provisional GMR for women in 2012 was 21.0 women marrying per thousand unmarried women aged 16 and over, compared with 19.9 in 2011 and 23.9 in 2002 (Figure 2).
Back to table of contents
The provisional number of civil ceremonies in 2012 was 184,320, accounting for 70% of all marriages. The proportion of civil ceremonies first exceeded religious ceremonies in 1976.
Provisional figures indicate that the number of marriage ceremonies which took place in approved premises such as hotels, stately homes and historic buildings increased in 2012. There were 156,480 marriage ceremonies which took place in approved premises in 2012, a 9.2% increase from 2011. Marriages in approved premises accounted for 60% of all marriages in 2012 and 85% of civil marriages. Following their introduction in 1995, there has been a continual increase in the proportion of marriages taking place in approved premises. This coincides with a rise in the number of approved premises licensed for weddings.
Religious marriages other than those solemnised according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, Church in Wales, Society of Friends or of the Jewish religion must usually take place in a building registered for marriages. All buildings registered for religious marriage must also be certified as a place of worship.
The provisional number of religious ceremonies in 2012 was 77,910, an increase of 4.6% compared with 2011. Religious marriages accounted for less than a third of all marriages in 2012 (30%). The number of religious marriages has decreased by 9.8% since 2002, while in the same period the overall number of marriages increased by 2.6%.
For the eighth consecutive year, there were fewer religious ceremonies than ceremonies in approved premises. While not necessarily linked, such trends mirror the findings of the 2011 Census, where the number of people who declare themselves as Christians in England and Wales had fallen from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011. Over the same period, the number reporting no religion rose from 15% to 25%.
Provisional marriage figures for 2012 suggest that Church of England and Church in Wales marriages have increased by 6.2% in 2012 to 57,860, from 54,463 in 2011. Similarly there has been a rise of 0.6% in the number of Roman Catholic marriages, while there was a decrease in the number of marriages to ‘Other Christian Denominations’ of 1.6%. The number of ceremonies to ‘other’ religions, including Sikh, Muslim and Jews, has also increased by 6.0% (see Table 1, Summary of marriage characteristics (199.5 Kb Excel sheet) ).Back to table of contents
Figure 3 shows the age at marriage for men and women in 2012. At younger ages there were more women than men marrying; however, at older ages more men than women married. This pattern reflects that, on average, men tend to form relationships with women younger than themselves. In 2012, the number of marriages was greatest among men and women aged 25 to 29.
The largest percentage increase in the number of marriages from 2011 to 2012 was for men and women aged 65 to 69, increasing by 25% and 21% respectively. The age groups with the greatest decrease in the numbers of marriages were for men under 20 and women aged 80 and over, decreasing by 9.4% and 18% respectively.
There was a slight increase in the mean age at marriage for both men and women in 2012. The provisional mean age for men marrying in 2012 was 36.5 years, an increase from 36.3 years in 2011. The provisional mean age for women marrying in 2012 was 34.0 years, an increase from 33.8 years in 2011.
Over the period 1972 to 2012, the mean age at marriage for both men and women generally increased (Figure 4). For grooms, the mean age at marriage in 1972 was 28.8 years, compared with 36.5 years in 2012. For brides, the mean age at marriage in 1972 was 26.2 years, compared with 34.0 years in 2012. These increases result from people delaying entering into a first marriage and to a lesser extent increases in the proportion of marriages to divorced men and women where the mean age at marriage has risen (see Tables 6 and 7, Age at marriage and previous marital status (604 Kb Excel sheet) ).
Since 1972 the mean age at first marriage has increased by almost eight years for both men and women. In 2012 the provisional mean age at marriage for never-married men was 32.4 years, while for never married women it was 30.3 years. This compares with 24.9 years and 22.9 years respectively in 1972.Back to table of contents
Provisional figures show that in 2012, 175,040 marriages in England and Wales were first marriages for both partners. This accounted for 67% of all marriages. This number peaked in 1940 at 426,100 when 91% of all marriages were the first for both partners.
Remarriages for both parties accounted for 15% of all marriages in 2012. The remaining 19% of marriages were to couples where only one partner had been married previously. The proportion of marriages that were the first for both parties has gradually increased since 1996 (rise of 9.1 percentage points), while remarriages for one or both parties have decreased over the same period (fall of 4.6 percentage points for both).Back to table of contents
The proportion of men and women who have ever married has been declining over recent decades. Of those born in 1930, 90% of men and 94% of women had married by age 40. In contrast, of those born in 1970, 63% of men and 71% of women had married by the same age.
The greatest decline in the proportions who have ever married were for men and women in their late teens and twenties. Of those born in 1930, 51% of men and 74% of women were married by the age of 25, compared with only 5% of men and 11% of women born in 1987 (the most recent birth cohort to reach age 25 in marriage data).
These figures reflect the increasing proportion of men and women delaying marriage or not getting married at all.Back to table of contents
What percentage of marriages end in divorce? published by ONS, shows that the estimated percentage of marriages ending in divorce (assuming 2010 divorce and mortality rates throughout the duration of marriage) is 42%. Around half of these divorces are expected to occur in the first ten years of marriage.
Further estimates suggest:
- 34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary.
- An additional 6% of marriages are expected to end by the 20th wedding anniversary because one of the spouses has died.
- 60% of marriages are therefore expected to survive to the 20th anniversary.
- 16% of marriages reach the 60th wedding anniversary.
- The average marriage is expected to last for 32 years.
For those marrying in the most recent years, since 2000, the percentage of marriages ending in divorce (486 Kb Excel sheet) appears to be falling. This recent decrease may be related to the following two factors:
- The age at which people first marry has been increasing. Research suggests that those marrying at older ages have a lower risk of divorce ( Wilson and Smallwood, 2008 (244.2 Kb Pdf) ).
- Cohabitation has increased in recent years. As people often live together before getting married (Beaujouan and Bhrolcháin, 2011), this may act to filter out less committed relationships from progressing to marriage.
The provisional number of UK marriages in 2012 was 301,250. This is a rise of 5.1% compared with 2011 when there were 286,634 marriages. The long-term picture for UK marriages has been one of decline, from a peak of 480,285 marriages in 1972, with 2010 showing the first increase since 2004.
In Scotland the number of marriages increased from 29,135 in 2011 to 30,534 in 2012, a rise of 4.8%. Northern Ireland also recorded a rise in the number of marriages, increasing by 1.4% to 8,480 in 2012, from 8,366 in 2011.
Annual marriage figures for the UK and constituent countries can be found in the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference tables.Back to table of contents
The number of civil partnership formations in the UK increased between 2010 and 2012, following decreases between 2006 and 2009. In 2012, 7,037 civil partnerships were formed by same-sex couples compared with 6,795 in 2011 (an increase of 3.6%). The total number of civil partnerships formed in the UK since the Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005, up to the end of 2012, is 60,454.
Further statistics on civil partnerships can be found on the ONS website.
Civil Partnerships five years on examines civil partnerships in England and Wales, comparing them with the characteristics of those marrying over the same period (2005 to 2010).Back to table of contents
Marital status estimates for 2011 and 2012 are not currently scheduled for publication. ONS has undertaken an internal review to ascertain whether the current output and methods used to produce the output are fit for purpose. A consultation proposing changes to both the published tables and methods used to produce them is available on the ONS website. The consultation closes on 11 July 2014.
Marriage rates for 2011 and 2012 are therefore based on estimated 2011 marital status population estimates. These use the mid-2011 population estimates based on the 2011 Census and the marital status distribution from the 2008-based marital status population projections for 2011. Analyses comparing the marital status distribution in the marital status estimates for mid-2008-2010 and the 2008-based marital status projections for 2008-2011 have shown that these estimates provide:
- a plausible marital status distribution for 2011 and 2012; and
- a more plausible 2011 marital status distribution than the 2010 marital status estimates.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 makes provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, either in a civil ceremony (in a register office or approved premise, for example a hotel) or on religious premises (provided that the religious organisation concerned is in agreement with the marriage being solemnised through a religious ceremony).
ONS ran a public consultation on user requirements for marriage, divorce and civil partnership statistics for England and Wales from 8 October 2013 to 17 December 2013. In response to this consultation, ONS intends to change the way in which marriages, divorces and civil partnerships data are published from 2015 onwards. ONS plan to publish a selection of summary tables for each topic; these summary tables will provide a significant time series for comparison. Alongside these summary tables, ONS plans to publish explorable datasets and anonymised microdata, both of which can be used to obtain more detailed statistics for a particular calendar year. A document (101.3 Kb Pdf) summarising responses to the consultation and future plans is published on the ONS website.Back to table of contents
ONS uses marriage statistics to:
- report on social and demographic trends, and
- perform further analyses, for example determining What percentage of marriages end in divorce? and for comparisons with civil partnership formations, for example Civil Partnerships five years on.
The distinction between cohabitation and marriage is of importance to policy makers, as well as to social and political commentators. Issues of policy interest include legal rights and responsibilities of cohabiting partners, the welfare of children of unmarried parents, the stability of family forms, housing demand, and lone parent families.
Organisations such as Eurostat and the Council of Europe use ONS marriage statistics. Also, organisations in the voluntary sector use ONS marriage statistics for comparison purposes and to support campaigns. These organisations often pass on ONS’s marriage statistics to their own users.
Lawyers, solicitors and those involved in family law, as well as academics and researchers in demography and social sciences, are often interested in marriage statistics.
Those involved in the 'marriage business', for example hotels and catering businesses, bridal shops and wedding planners, often wish to see marriage statistics. The clergy and in particular the Church of England are also interested in marriage statistics by area, and the number of religious marriages taking place each year.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 444110