Skip to content
July 11, 2013 / C H Thompson


First marriages and remarriages – the trends

To understand the extent to which marriage has changed in England and Wales it is useful to first examine the marriage timeline before readingMarriage_Timeline further. Doing so will help you recognise how much the concept marriage has changed, yet retained a degree of continuity regarding its social relevance and significance.

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.

  • In 2013 there were 18.2 million families in the UK. Of these, 12.3 million consisted of a married couple with or without children (ONS)

marriage rates image

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.

Places of marriagemarriage

When looking at marriage in England and Wales one of the best places to start is to examine the marriage timeline to see the extent of change within the continuity of marriage.

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.places of marriage

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. One of the most significant changes to the law regarding marriage is the introduction of same-sex marriages in 2014.

Alternatives to marriage – cohabitation

In 1994, the earliest date for which figures are available, 75% of couples marrying in a civil ceremony lived together before getting married.rates of cohabitation 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.

Return to family overview


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: