Azara Blog: The marriage rate in England and Wales is allegedly still falling

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Date published: 2008/03/26

The BBC says:

Marriage rates in England and Wales have fallen to the lowest level since records began in 1862, the Office for National Statistics said.

Provisional marriage figures for 2006 show that 23 out of 1,000 unmarried men were choosing to marry - down from 25 men per 1,000 the previous year.

The marriage rate for women fell from 22 to 21 per thousand for the period.

The number of marriages has been in decline. In 2006 there were 237,000 - the lowest annual number since 1895.

Jill Kirby, from the Centre for Policy Studies, the centre-right think tank, said: "It is obviously worrying that marriage rates have reached such a low ebb but it is not surprising in view of the lack of government policy encouraging marriage over the last 10 years."

She said the existing welfare system penalises against marriage.

"Marriage is in danger of being lost as the core institution of society. Research demonstrates how important marriage is to maintain the stability for children. The break-up of cohabiting couples is much higher than married couples," she added.
In 2006 the mean age for all marriages increased to 36.4 years for men - up from 36.2 in 2005, and 33.7 years for women (33.5 in 2005).

In 2006 the mean age at first marriage was 31.8 years for men and 29.7 years for women.

Right at the end of the article the BBC gives a clue as to why the marriage rate as officially measured might be declining, namely that people are getting married later and later. So the headline statistic is misleading.

Even worse, of course, is that the usual suspects (here the CPS) have to claim the world is at an end because of this misleading statistic. And Kirby's specific claim that "research demonstrates how important marriage is to maintain the stability for children" is just a classic confusion between correlation and causation (but you would hardly expect anyone who works for a "think tank" to actually think). The existing welfare system might "penalise" marriage but the tax system penalises non-marriage (for example in inheritance tax and via capital gain transfers between married people). Needless to say, the tax and benefit system should be neutral with regard to marriage. Married people are not inherently worthy of tax breaks, whether or not certain people might want to arbitrarily claim that marriage is a "core institution".

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