Half of today’s 20-year-olds will never marry, striking research reveals. Instead, couples are increasingly choosing to cohabit without ever deciding to commit.
A report published today using the latest data from the Office for National Statistics reveals a generational shift away from the institution of marriage, with youngsters far less likely ever to wed than their parents and grandparents.
The research by the Marriage Foundation shows that, for a variety of reasons, 47 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men aged 20 will never marry.
The baby boomer generation – born between the end of the Second World War and the early 1960s – has maintained a healthy level of marriage, with 87 per cent of men and 92 per cent of women having married at some stage.
But subsequent generations are facing a sharp decline in marriage rates.
Half of 40-year-olds today are already married, but they are not expected to reach the levels set by their parents.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: 'One of the starkest findings of this report is that young people’s aspiration to marry so outstrips achievement.
'We should respond by asking what stops them from doing so - looking at how we can remove any barriers that currently stand in their way, and ensuring they have the opportunity to realise their aspirations.
'This government has already funded marriage preparation and relationship education for over 6,000 couples, but there is undoubtedly more to do.
'I firmly believe in the importance of strong families as the foundation of a healthy society, and that marriage has a powerful role to play in securing the relationship that lies at their heart.
'We know that stable loving families offer children the best possible start in life, so it is right that this government has taken steps to ensure families have the help and support they need to flourish.
'From action to reduce the couple penalty left by Labour to the provision of relationship education and the recognition of marriage in the tax system, it is clear that we are unashamedly pro-family.'
According to current trends, only 61 per cent of men and 68 per cent of women aged 40 today will ever marry.
However, the greatest decline in marriage has taken place among those in their twenties. In 1970, the peak year for marriage, 564,818 men and women aged 25 got married. In 2010, just 56,598 did, a fall of 90 per cent.
Today, only 5 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women aged 25 are married, as compared to 60 per cent of men and 80 per cent of women 44 years ago.
When current trends are applied to today’s 20-year olds, figures show that only 52 per cent of those men and 53 per cent of women are expected ever to marry, despite strong aspirations to do so.
Researchers blamed a number of factors, including early cohabitation, which makes people less likely ever to tie the knot, celebrity divorces, and decades of undermining of the institution of marriage by the state.
Harry Benson, research director for the Marriage Foundation, said: ‘What we’re seeing is the devastating trickle-down effect of the trend away from marriage.
‘At the moment, we have high proportions of parents and grandparents who have got married at some stage and for the most part stayed together.
'They provide role models for the next generation. They also show what can be gained from making a marriage work in terms of the stability it provides for a family.
‘However, fewer of today’s 40-year-olds will be in a position to demonstrate the positives of a stable household cemented by marriage.
‘Their children’s generation, currently in their twenties, will suffer twofold; first from a higher level of family breakdown when they themselves are young, and secondly from the lack of familiarity with the benefits of marriage as they look to start their own families.’
Mr Benson said that the argument for marriage is ‘not a moral or religious one, but based on concrete facts’.
‘Cohabiting couples account for only 19 per cent of parents but 50 per cent of family breakdown. Among parents who stay together until their children reach 15, a tiny 7 per cent are cohabiting couples,’ he said.
In its 13 years in power Labour was accused of undermining marriage, and the UK is almost alone in Europe in failing to recognise traditional family structures in the tax system.
In last week’s Queen’s Speech, the Government confirmed its intention to restore a recognition of marriage in the tax system.
Married couples where one partner pays no income tax will be able to transfer £1,000 of their tax allowance between them, saving them £200 a year.
The Marriage Foundation was founded by Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court Judge, moved by his personal experience in 40 years as a barrister and judge specialising in family law.
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