At CARE we believe that marriage is a good gift from God. A good gift for individuals and families, aren’t weddings days of celebration and joy!
But marriage is also a good gift for all of society. Marriage provides stability and certainty both for the couple who make a lifelong commitment to one another but also for the children that come out of their union.
Marriage is a therefore key unit of social cohesion around which communities are built and families are supported, and one in which that Government should take a keen interest. A thriving society will have stable families and marriages at its heart.
Marriage rates falling
It is very troubling therefore to learn that the Office for National Statistics has published its latest data on marriage in England and Wales, which shows that marriage rates have fallen to their lowest ever since records began in 1862.
In 2017 there were 21.2 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 19.5 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women representing a fall of 75% for men and 69% for women since 1972.
Decline in religious marriages
A large portion of this decline is in fact a reduction in the number of couples having a religious marriage, with a 9.5% reduction between 2016 and 2017 compared with only a 0.6% decline in the number of civil marriages.
This follows a long-term reduction in the popularity of religious ceremonies. Religious ceremonies accounted for 85% of marriages in 1900, falling to 49% by the late 1970s and to 23% in 2017.
Will the next generation marry?
All these statistics show a remarkable loss of confidence in marriage from one generation to the next. Whereas 81% of men and 89% of women born in 1930 were estimated to have been married by the age of 30 years, for those born in 1987 less than one in four (23%) men and less than a third (32%) of women were married by age 30.
The Marriage Foundation has estimatedthat only a little over half of all today’s teenagers will ever get married. This is in spite of repeated survey evidence that the majority of teens aspire to get married at some point. There is a serious disconnect between marriage aspiration and marriage rates in the next generation.
Consequences for society
The challenge for our society is that this loss of confidence in marriage has led to and will continue to lead to increasing family breakdown and instability in relationships.
As Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation, has argued:
‘The hidden damage to our social fabric caused by our indifference to marriage – and therefore commitment and stability – will continue long after we are free of coronavirus.
‘The long term decline of marriage profoundly matters because marriage is especially strongly associated with the commitment, clarity, security and stability that all of us need now more than ever.’
The current crisis will only exacerbate this trend, with all weddings currently banned for the foreseeable future. The Daily Mail has reportedthat some 40,000 weddings were expected to take place in April and May.
To successfully emerge from this crisis our society must rediscover its confidence in marriage. Strong marriages lead to strong families, strong communities and a strong society. Our Government, churches and civil society must back marriage, making it as financially and socially accessible as possible.