The Times

Saturday, January 9, 1999

Alexandra Frean on the growing ranks of those who will never wed

Singles will outnumber married

The Times

Married people will soon be outnumbered by those who are unmarried for the first time since central marital records began in 1801, government statisticians said yesterday.

The decrease reflects not so much an increase in the divorce rate as a sharp rise in the number of people choosing never to marry. The Government Actuary predicted that the number of married adults would fall from current levels of 55 per cent to 48 per cent by 2011 and to 45 per cent by 2021.

The proportion of men who have never married is predicted to rise from 32 per cent in 1996 to 39 per cent by 2011 and to 41 per cent by 2021. For women, the proportion will rise from 24 per cent in 1996 to 31 per cent in 2011 and 33 per cent in 2021. Chris Shaw, who compiled the figures, which will be important in setting the social climate and assessing future housing and welfare needs, said that the divorce rate was predicted to fall for younger age groups and was expected to rise for only those over 45.

For men aged 30 to 44, it will fall from 11 to 8 per cent between 1996 and 2021, while for women in the same age group it will drop from 13 to 10 per cent. For men aged 45 to 64, however, it will rise from 11 per cent in 1996 to 16 per cent by 2021. For women of the same age group, it will rise from 13 to 18 per cent. Although the actuary expects the number of people living together without being married to rise, this increase is not expected to compensate for the fall in married couples; there are likely to be significantly more adults living alone.

Cohabiting couples, estimated at 1.56 million in 1996, will rise during the next 25 years to 2.93 million. However, Mr Shaw said it was extremely unlikely that marriage would fade and die: "The assumption is that the marriage rate will continue to decline, but in the long term this fall will level off."

According to "long, long term" predictions, 66 per cent of men and 71 per cent of women will get married at some point. The discrepancy between the sexes is because male divorcées are more likely to remarry than women.

Copyright 1999, Times Newspapers Ltd.