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sexta-feira, 12 de fevereiro de 2010

Couples wed later as marriage falls to record low

Couples are getting married five years later than a decade ago, according to official statistics that underline the falling popularity of marriage.

By Harry Wallop
Published: 7:30AM GMT 12 Feb 2010

Dr Rake sounded the death knell for the traditional family Photo: Stephen Shepherd

People are now typically waiting until their mid 30s before they get married, with the high cost of weddings, a greater proportion of people pursuing higher education and increased foreign travel among the reasons for the change.

It also suggests that more people - particularly the growing number of career women - are deciding to concentrate on work before settling down.

The average age of a woman getting married is now 33.8 years, up from 29.1 a decade ago, while the average age of a man is now 36.5 years, up from 31.2 years.

The figures appeared in the annual marriage data from the Office for National Statistics yesterday, which also showed that the marriage rate had fallen to a new all-time low.

Fewer couples are getting married than at any time since 1862, when records began.

The data also showed that, for the first time ever, fewer than 2 in 100 women got married in a single year in 2008. The rate fell from 2 per cent to 1.96 per cent, less than half the rate 25 years ago.

The ONS also said that under one of its measures the number of unmarried women now outnumbered married women for the first time. Of the adult female population, 49 per cent are married, though if you include married but separated women - estranged but not divorced - this figure climbs to 52 per cent.

The figures sparked, once again, a debate over whether married couples should enjoy tax breaks.

Last month Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary said the policy, which has been suggested by the Conservatives was "unfair" and amounted to "social engineering". Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, called it a "bribe" for couples to wed.

However, John Hayward, the director of The Jubilee Centre, a relationship charity, said: "The tax system is currently skewed against people who get married. Making marriage tax neutral would take away the disadvantage of getting married."

The Centre for Social Justice, the think tank founded by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, has strenuously argued that tax credit system makes it very difficult for young people, on a low income, to get married.

It has calculated that approximately 1.8 million low-earning couples are materially worse off than their single parent counterparts, losing on average £1,336 a year because they live together.

Samantha Callan, the think tank's chairman, said: “Marriage is important because one in three couples who live together when a child is born split up before that child is five, compared to only one in 11 married couples.

“The couple penalty in the working tax credit is preventing lower income people from living together and getting married and Government indifference to this issue is a huge part of the problem."

Some, however, said the record low figures were not a reason to sound the death knell of marriage. Anastasia de Waal, a director of the think tank Civitas, said: "I am not depressed at all. What we are seeing is marriage is stronger than ever – it's just that couples are only choosing to marry at a time and method of their own choosing. People are no longer getting married because they want to live together.

"Marriage is valued. Why else would the divorce rate be falling?"

Not only is the average age of people marrying getting later, thanks to people's second and third weddings. But so too has the age of first time marriage increased.

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