Nuptials bouncing back indicate institution of marriage isn’t dead -but cohabitation rises for opposite-sex couples as civil partnerships start to lead in wedding industry

Post pandemic marriage statistics show that nuptials are once again on the rise, despite an increase in cohabiting couples and those who decide to tie the knot are reported to be in the highest age bracket recorded.

The Office for National Statistics(ONS) released figures today that analysed data on marriage and co-habitation from 2021-2022 which show that the wedding industry has re-opened at full force, however cohabitation is fast becoming the norm for couples with marriages falling by 20.8 per cent since 1992. Concerns have been raised in the legal sector, in the lead up to the election, that cohabiting couples ‘are living without legal protections – which has complex financial implications’.

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance, Hargreaves Lansdown:

“Weddings had been scuppered by the pandemic, so 2022 saw the releasing of pent-up demand, and a rush down the aisle. Partly as a result of couples putting their weddings off, the proportion who lived together before marriage hit a record high. However, this is not a one-off, it’s a long-term trend. 30 years ago around half of couples decided to try before they buy – now it’s nine in ten. Couples aren’t in a hurry to tie the knot either, which is why the average age at marriage has also hit a record high.

There’s an awful lot to be celebrated in couples taking the time to make this decision, rather than feeling pressure to get married young. However, it comes with a cost. It means more couples are living together without the legal protection of marriage, which has complex financial implications, and means unmarried couples need to take steps to protect themselves.”

Being married or becoming civil partnered remained the most common legal partnership status among the population aged 16 years and over in England and Wales; however, this proportion has decreased from 51.2 per cent in 2012 to 49.7 per cent in 2021 and 49.4 per cent in 2022, this is the first time figures have fallen below 50 per cent. Those aged 70 years and over accounted for 18.3 per cent of the population who were married or civil partnered in 2022, while those aged under 30 years accounted for 3.2 per cent; this reflects an ageing married or civil partnered population from 2012, when these proportions were 15.1 per cent and 4.9 per cent, respectively.

However, same sex marriages are on the rise- whilst people in civil partnerships still account for a small proportion of those in a legal partnership, the estimated number of people in a civil partnership has almost doubled over the last decade, from 120,000 in 2012 to 222,000 in 2022; this increase includes the introduction of opposite-sex civil partnerships from 31 December 2019.

While 99.3 per cent of married people were married to someone of the opposite sex, the estimated number of people in marriages with a partner of the same sex has increased, from 26,000 in 2015 to 167,000 in 2022; of people in same-sex marriages, males accounted for around six in 10, while females accounted for around four in 10.

The ONS reported that there were 246,897 marriages in England and Wales in 2002 – a 12.3 per cent increase from 2019, something the organisation says demonstrates the ‘pent-up demand from frustrated couples’ during the pandemic. They say in their analysis ‘the number and timing of marriages conducted during 2020 and 2021 may have been affected by restrictions around ceremonies and receptions, and disruption to registration services in England and Wales during the pandemic. Caution should be taken when making comparisons of these data with other years.’

New trends are showing an increase in marriage age for same-sex couples with a record high of 32.7 for men and to 31.2 for women.

More than nine in ten opposite-sex couples marrying in 2021 and 2022 were cohabiting before they got married – the highest since records began 20 years ago. In 1994, this was just 59.6 per cent.

Helen Morrissey, head of retirement analysis, Hargreaves Lansdown:

“The trend towards cohabitation continues. It’s a great way of working out if you are right for each other but many people are under the impression that they’re covered under some kind of common law marriage arrangement. This is not the case. Cohabiting couples may stay together for years and raise families together, but if the worst happens the surviving partner could find they have few, if any, financial rights to their partner’s assets. This could leave them approaching retirement with little if any pension provision. From this point of view, it is vital that expression of wish forms for pensions are kept up to date so the right person gets the death benefits should the worst happen.

“It’s also important to build up your own pension provision wherever possible rather than relying on that of your partner. By doing so, you are building up your joint financial resilience if you remain together, and you have the extra flexibility of having your own money to spend in retirement. However, should you split, you know you have your own pension to rely on and the prospect of having a difficult time financially in retirement won’t keep you in a relationship in which you are unhappy.”

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