Husbands and wives make up less than half of the British population for the first time, an official study reveals. As divorces increase and cohabiting is catching on, most people above the age of 16 are now single, divorced or widowed.
The report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says, if the trend continues, by 2031 only 40 percent of women will have married, and 46 percent of men.
The analysis is based on the data for 2005, the most recent year available. In 2005, the number of couples in the adult population of England and Wales dropped to 50.3 percent.
The report assumes the number of married persons has been dropping by over a 100,000 every year to suggest that in 2006 or in 2007 the proportion of married couples would have dipped below half.
The number of weddings in England and Wales in 2006 was just 236,980 - the lowest number since 1895 and the smallest proportion of marriages compared to population since records began in the mid-Victorian era.
The ONS report said: "The number of people available to marry has been increasing, but the number choosing to marry has been declining."
Groups supporting the traditional family concept say the reluctance of people to marry could have health and economic implications. They contend that the consequences will be seen in terms of poorer health, lower incomes, more benefit dependency, increased alcohol abuse and growing crime and anti-social behaviour.