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Marriages declined nearly 10% in the United Kingdom during 2005, according to a report released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The number of marriages in 2005 was 283,730, the lowest since 1896. This drop follows three years of increases. The long-term picture, however, is that of decline.
What is rising is the age at which people in the UK are deciding to marry: 36.2 years for men and 33.6 years for women.
The report also mentioned a decline in civil marriages to 65%. These still hold the majority over religious marriages.
Perhaps most stunning is that only 60% of all marriages are the first for both partners, a dramatic difference from 1940, when 91% of all marriages were the first for both.
Part of the blame appears to be on a change in the law designed to discourage “sham marriages” between citizens of the UK and foreigners, simply to enable them to become permanent citizens. The ONS reports, “This is one of many factors that may have contributed to the drop in the number of marriages in 2005.”
These trends in the prevalence and strength of marriage in the UK are mirrored in the United States. The age when Americans are choosing to marry for the first time is rising also—27 for males and 26 for females in 2005.
Cohabitation is on the rise in both the UK and the United States, and is one factor in the decline of marriage. In the U.S., in 2005 there were 4.85 million unmarried adult couples living together. In 1960, there was just under a half million. If and when a couple decides to get married, more than half of them have lived together prior to the ceremony.
People who cohabit commonly believe that by living together before marriage they can “test the waters” of marriage to “see if it will work.” Cohabitation is becoming a replacement for dating, but in much more intimate quarters. The thinking follows that if living together turns out to be a bad idea, the couple can simply break up and avoid a bad marriage.
The National Marriage Institute said this about the effects of cohabiting: “The longer you live together with a partner, the more likely it is that the low-commitment ethic of cohabitation will take hold, the opposite of what is required for a successful marriage.”
Marriage is becoming less important in the minds of many. Is it outdated? With more adults choosing to simply live together rather than get married, will this have any long-term effects on these countries?
Looking back through history, the strength of civilizations relied heavily on strong marriages and family units. The Healthy Marriage Initiative, funded by the U.S. Government, stated, “Marriage is a sacred institution, and its protection is essential to the continued strength of society.”
If the status of marriage continues to diminish in these countries—increasingly becoming just another step in a relationship, akin to the first date or meeting parents, and the importance of building strong families is ignored—will we continue to see these Western nations diminish as well?