There were 234,795 marriages in England and Wales in 2018; a decrease of 3.3% compared with 2017 and the lowest since 2009.
Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2018 were the lowest on record, with 20.1 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 18.6 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women.
In 2018, there were 6,925 marriages between same-sex couples, with 57.2% between female couples; a further 803 same-sex couples converted their civil partnership into a marriage.
Around one fifth (21.1%) of opposite-sex marriages in 2018 were religious ceremonies, the lowest on record; in contrast, religious ceremonies accounted for only 0.9% of same-sex marriages.
In 2018, the average age at marriage for opposite-sex couples was 38.1 years for men and 35.8 years for women; for same-sex couples the average ages at marriage were 40.4 years and 36.9 years respectively.
"Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples were the lowest on record in 2018, while the total number of marriages fell for the third consecutive year in a row. This continues the gradual long-term decline in both numbers and rates since the early 1970s. Despite this overall decline, more people are choosing to get married at older ages, particularly those aged 65 and over.
"This is the fifth year since same-sex marriages have been possible and around one in thirty-five marriages are now among same-sex couples".
Kanak Ghosh, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics
Follow Vital Statistics Outputs Branch on Twitter @SarahCaul_ONSBack to table of contents
Number of marriages
There were 234,795 marriages in England and Wales in 2018, which is a decrease of 3.3% compared with 2017, and the lowest number since 2009 (232,443 marriages). This decrease was driven by a 11.4% fall in the number of religious marriages and a 1.0% fall in civil marriages.
Marriages of opposite-sex couples accounted for the majority (97.1%) of marriages in 2018, with 227,870 opposite-sex marriages registered. This is a decrease of 3.4% compared with 2017.
In 2018, there were 6,925 same-sex marriages, which is a similar number to the previous year (6,932 marriages). 57.2% of these were between female couples.
Marriage rates take into account the changes in the size of the unmarried adult population as well as the number of marriages. Therefore, they provide a better indication of changing trends.
Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples have fallen to the lowest on record for both men and women. In 2018, there were 20.1 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 18.6 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women aged 16 years and over, representing decreases of 5.2% for men and 4.6% for women compared with 2017.
There has been a gradual long-term decline in both the number of marriages and marriage rates since the early 1970s (Figure 1). Since 1972, the number of opposite-sex marriages has decreased by 46.5%, while marriage rates have fallen by more than three-quarters for men (76.1%) and by 70.7% for women.
This long-term decline is a likely consequence of increasing numbers of men and women delaying marriage, or couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative.
Marriage rates for same-sex couples have remained broadly the same for both men and women since the introduction of same-sex marriages in 2014 and can be found in the accompanying dataset to this bulletin.Back to table of contents
Among opposite-sex couples in 2018, more women than men married at younger ages (aged under 30 years) and more men than women married at older ages (aged 30 years and over) (Figure 2). This pattern reflects that, on average, men tend to form relationships with women younger than themselves.
Among same-sex couples, more women than men married at ages under 50 years, whereas more men married at ages 50 years and over.
Marriage rates by age
For opposite-sex marriages in 2018, the number of men and women marrying per 1,000 unmarried men and women (marriage rate) decreased or remained unchanged for all age groups compared with 2017. A similar pattern was also seen for most age groups for same-sex marriages.
Marriage rates have generally been decreasing among younger ages for both men and women, and increasing at older ages. Since 2008, men and women aged under 20 years have recorded the largest percentage of decreases in marriage rates (57.1% for men and 62.5% for women).
In comparison, marriage rates for those aged 65 years and over have increased the most over the last decade. For more information see the article Marriage and divorce on the rise at 65 and over.
Average age at marriage
In 2018, the average (mean) age at marriage for opposite-sex couples was 38.1 years for men and 35.8 years for women, continuing the overall rise in average age recorded since the 1970s (Figure 3). The average age at marriage for same-sex couples in 2018 was slightly higher at 40.4 years for men and 36.9 years for women.
These changes are discussed further in the blog Married by 30? You're now in the minority.
Proportion of men and women ever married
The percentage of men and women who have ever married or remarried has been declining over recent decades. A detailed analysis and explanation of these trends is available in tables 12 and 13 of the accompanying dataset to this bulletin.Back to table of contents
Religious ceremonies accounted for about one in five (21.1%) opposite-sex marriages in 2018 (the lowest on record) and 0.9% of same-sex marriages. Only 63 same-sex couples had a religious ceremony in 2018; however, not all religious organisations conduct marriages of same-sex couples.
The popularity of religious marriages has decreased steadily over time. In 1900, religious ceremonies accounted for 84.7% of all marriages; by 1980 this had fallen to 50.4%. Since 1992, civil marriages have increasingly outnumbered religious marriages every year (Figure 4).
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Same-sex civil partners have been able to convert their existing civil partnership into a marriage from 10 December 2014.
In 2018, there were 803 same-sex civil partnerships converted into a marriage, 25.1% fewer than in 2017. Male couples are more likely to convert their civil partnership into a marriage (57.3% of all conversions in 2018 were between male couples).Back to table of contents
The accompanying dataset to this bulletin provides further marriages data by denomination, previous partnership status, age, day and month of marriage, cohabitation status, date of marriage and area of occurrence.Back to table of contents
Marriages in England and Wales
Dataset | Released 10 August 2021
Annual statistics on the number of marriages that took place in England and Wales analysed by age, sex, previous marital status and civil or religious ceremony.
A civil marriage can take place at a register office or other buildings approved for civil marriage. Both partners must personally give a formal notice of their intention to marry or form a civil partnership to the superintendent registrar of the district(s) where they have resided for the previous seven days.
Religious marriages can take place in Church of England or Church in Wales premises, as well as in other buildings registered for marriage that are certified as a place of worship. Religious marriages also include marriages solemnised according to the rites of the Society of Friends and those professing the Jewish religion.
A marriage legally occurs upon solemnisation at a ceremony, either religious or civil, and must follow the completion of legal preliminaries.
General Register Office (GRO)
The GRO (part of the Identity and Passport Service since 1 April 2008 and renamed Her Majesty's Passport Office on 13 May 2013) is responsible for ensuring the registration of all births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships that have occurred in England and Wales and for maintaining a central archive.
Single men or women
Persons who have never been married or formed a civil partnership.Back to table of contents
This is the first time that final marriage statistics for England and Wales have been published for 2018. The release provides final annual data.
Marriage statistics are derived from information recorded when marriages are registered as part of civil registration, a legal requirement.
Figures represent civil and religious marriages that took place in England and Wales only.
Marriages to residents of England and Wales that took place abroad are not included, while marriages that took place in England and Wales to non-residents are included.
Marriages of same-sex couples first took place on 29 March 2014.
Same-sex couples in a civil partnership have been able to convert their existing civil partnership into a marriage, if they so desired, from 10 December 2014; these are not included in the marriage statistics but are reported separately.
The average (mean) ages presented in this release have not been standardised for age and therefore do not take account of the changing structure of the population by age, sex and marital status.
More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Marriages Quality and Methodology Information report.
We would like to thank Nina Mill and Faiza Mohammad for their valued contribution to this bulletin.Back to table of contents
Our User guide to marriage statistics provides further information on data quality, legislation and procedures relating to marriages and includes a more detailed glossary of terms.
Marriage statistics are compiled to enable the analysis of social and demographic trends. They are also used for considering and monitoring policy changes, most recently the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples.
National Statistics status for Marriages in England and Wales
National Statistics status means that our statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and public value, and it is our responsibility to maintain compliance with these standards.
Improvements since last review:
- summary tables have been extended to provide statistics for marriages of same-sex couples and conversions of same-sex civil partnerships
Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
The data in this release relates to calendar year 2018 and are therefore unaffected by the pandemic. Figures for 2020 will not be released until 2023 when we will first report on the impact of the pandemic on marriages rates.
Timeliness of Marriages in England and Wales data
It is currently only possible to publish final annual marriage statistics around 26 months after the end of the reference year due to delays in the submission of religious marriage entries by the clergy and authorised persons. It is estimated that each year around 4% of religious marriage returns received at the Office for National Statistics remain outstanding one year after the reference period. This may be due to factors such as the closure of a building or change of incumbent. Marriage statistics are published once we consider the annual dataset is acceptably complete.
The introduction of the Marriages, Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 (which came into force on 4 May 2021) is expected to reduce the delay in submission of religious marriage entries and therefore improve the timeliness of publishing future marriage statistics.
Marriage statistics are comparable between countries within the UK. More information on comparability is contained in the Marriages in England and Wales QMI.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 444110