Thursday, 12 June 2014

Marriage in Secular Britain

Provisional figures for 2012 released by the UK Government Office of National Statistics (ONS) today show that the number of marriages in England and Wales have increased slightly, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the unmarried population. However, 70% of marriages are now civil marriages with just 28.6% Christian of one denomination or another.

Source: ONS
Total marriages have declined from about 352,000 in 1981 to 262,000 in 2012 although this was up from just under 250,000 in 2011. Over the same period, religious marriages have declined from just under 180,000 to just under 78,000.
In 1981 more than half of all marriages were conducted in a place of worship with Anglican marriages accounting for the huge majority of them. They have now fallen to half their former numbers.

The only religious category to show an increase over this period has been 'Other', which includes Jewish, Muslim and Sikh, up to 2920 from 1488 in 1981.
Source: ONS
Source: ONS
From being less than half of all marriages in 1981, civil marriages now comprise over 70% of all marriages.
The recent upturn in the number of marriages in England and Wales comes after many years of steep decline starting around 1970 when the post-war baby boomers - the 1960s generation - were coming of age, as shown by the blip between about 1965 and 1975. Marriages had been increasing steadily since these records began in line with population growth, being distorted by the two world wars.
Source: ONS

Whether the recent upturn is due to demographic changes with immigration into the UK from Eastern Europe under EU free movement laws, or whether this represents a bottoming out of the decline remains to be seen. There are a number of demographic changes that may have contributed to the decline in religion as an institution in Britain, not least of which has been, until very recently, a general feeling of security as the baby boomers and especially their children were brought up in the welfare state created by the post-war Labour government in response to the Beveridge Plan. People were better housed, better fed, better clothed, better educated, better paid and had more leisure time and disposable income than at any time in history. In addition, they were brought up in a less deferential culture and were more inclined to examine the old assumptions and think for themselves rather than being prepared to think what they were told. And these ideas were able to spread more quickly because of the mass communication media.

Better education made us more willing to see the old religious fables and origin myths as just that, not science or a useful description of the Universe any more. Better security rendered us less susceptible to the false hope that religion offers and better communication made us realise we were not alone in these new attitudes and new-found scepticism. And of course better and more accessible contraception and better sex education has turned sex into a recreational activity carrying far less risk, especially for females, reverting sex to probably it's more natural role in human relationships and freeing it from stigma and guilt that religion had imposed on it.

The strongest predictor of whether a person grows up to be religious is whether their parents are... In terms of keeping people, the non-religious are doing very well indeed. It is extremely unusual for somebody brought up in a non-religious household to join a religion, but it is not at all unusual for somebody brought up with a religious affiliation to end up as non-religious... The very fact that there is such a group, that it is quite big and that there wasn't such a group before is an indicator of secularisation.

Stephen Bullivant, theologian, St Mary's University, UK. Co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism
Quoted in Losing our religion: Your guide to a godless future by Graham Lawton; New Scientist 30 April 2014

Now we have brought our children up to think for themselves, the biggest cause of religion - parental example - has been removed from half the population. Studies have shown that only about 3% of children with Atheist or non-believing parents are likely to become religious, whilst only 50% of children from actively religious parents are likely to follow them. In the UK, for every 10 people to leave Catholicism, only 1 joins.

Source: ONS
Clearly, for most people who bother to get married at all, the reasons are social and/or economic, or simply because of a wish to show commitment. Even for those who get married in a church, the reason often has more to do with wanting a 'traditional' marriage and a nice setting for the ceremony. Marriage now has little to do with seeking permission for sex of an irascible magic man who takes a rather creepy interest in our bedroom activities.

Even for religious people, premarital sex will have been the norm in almost every case and most will have been living as a couple for some time. As the last chart shows, for all but the youngest age group, over 50% had cohabited prior to marriage, rising to over 80% for 30-45 year-olds, only a little below the cohabitation figures for civil marriages at 90%.

Religion has almost ceased to have any relevance to the institution or 'sanctity' of marriage in England and Wales and marriage is no longer seen as a prerequisite to a full sexual relationship.

ONS: Marriage Summary Statistics 2012 (Provisional) (Excel sheet 192Kb).
ONS: Marriage Statistics, Cohabitation and Cohort Analyses (Excel sheet 343Kb).
ONS: Facts About Marriage.

submit to reddit


  1. I remember at least two other interesting blog articles written by you, Rosa, discussing the question why people become religious or not: 1) ; and 2) .

    I strongly recommend people who see today's blog article from Rosa to read also those two articles I just linked to.

  2. BTW: Here's another good blogger who knows a lot about why some people become religious while others lose their faith in divine beings/entities. His name is Tomas Rees. You can read his latest blog article here: . In that article you can read that atheism is linked to (higher) intelligence and less cognitive impairment when you're getting older.

    If so, why did our Almighty God and Creator create us in that way?

    Maybe you know the answer to that question, Rosa? Anyhow, God doesn't seem to love His believers very much.


Obscene, threatening or obnoxious messages, preaching, abuse and spam will be removed, as will anything by known Internet trolls and stalkers or by known sock-puppet accounts.

A claim made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Remember: your opinion is not an established fact unless corroborated.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Web Analytics