Today's Hot Topic: First comes love, then comes marriage?
Question: Are you?
Single, living with partner
Total Votes: 71
Question: Are you?
Total Votes: 71
Single parent homes are on the rise, in fact in 2004, for the first time in history, single women outnumbered the married women in England and Wales.
Are you concerned about the rate of marriages on the decline? What do you think is the cause of it? Do you believe marriage should come before having children? Why or why not?
By STEVE DOUGHTY
Last updated at 22:00 17 December 2006
Married women have become a minority in England and Wales for the first time, official figures have revealed.
They showed that there are more single, divorced and widowed women than there are wives.
The number of women over the age of 16 who are married has plunged to fewer than 11 million, largely thanks to the collapse in the popularity of marriage among under-30s.
New figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the landmark point where unmarried women became the majority was reached in 2004.
The decline of marriage and the increase in live-in cohabitation and single living has accelerated, they indicate, since Labour came to power determined to ensure that gays and single parents received equal treatment and that the privileges once given to married couples were eliminated.
In the eight short years between 1996 - the year before Tony Blair's election - and 2004 the number of women who have never married or who are divorced has shot up by more than one and a half million.
The watershed for marriage was disclosed in week when the controversy over family stability was pitched into party politics by the Tory report on 'Breakdown Britain'.
The inquiry run by former party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that cohabitee parents are twice as likely to break up as married ones and that threequarters of family splits that affect children involve unmarried parents.
It endorsed years of research which have exposed deep connections between children brought up by single parents and poor health, poor education, drugs, crime and teenage pregnancy.
Tory leader David Cameron responded with promises of policies to support marriage.
Yesterday's breakdown of the decline of marriage showed that fewer than one in three women in their late 20s is married, and among those aged between 20 and 24 the proportion who are married is under one in ten.
In the early 1970s 85 per cent of women were married before their 30th birthday. Six out of ten had married before the age of 25.
In 2003 there were 11,000,000 wives and 10,892,000 single, divorced or widowed women. In 1971, nearly two out of three adult women were married.
But in the following year the number of married women was 10,935,000, the ONS analysis said. There were 11,090,000 who were single, divorced or widowed.
The minority status of wives is likely to be unprecedented in peacetime in history.
Decline in marriage began in the late 1970s - at a time when welfare benefits for single parents were beginning to increase - and accelerated through the 1980s and 90s.
During this period married couples began to be taxed separately and the value of a key tax break, Married Couples Allowance, began to be eroded.
Numbers of divorced women have soared nearly tenfold since 1971 to 2.15 million in 2004, a process quickened by reforms which made divorce easier.
Mr Blair's Government has taken its attitude to marriage from its feminist wing. One key figure, Patricia Hewitt, now Health Secretary, declared in 1996 that the rise in cohabitation meant that legal marriage 'doesn't fit any longer, particularly not in Britain.'
Since then Labour has built its policies on the idea that all kinds of families are equally good. Married Couples Allowance has been abolished, welfare benefits for single parents have been pushed much higher than those for couples, and Miss Hewitt has run a drive to remove the word 'marriage' from state documents.
Privileges once extended only to married couples have been made available to homosexuals through the civil partnerships system and the Government is now planning to extend mutual property rights to cohabiting couples.
Critics of Labour's family policies called for new efforts to encourage young people to marry.
Jill Kirby of the centre right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: 'This is a landmark. We see a major decline which is also quite clearly correlated with the fall in birthrates among women under 30.
'If we are to look after the health of families, we need to devise policies that will reverse the drop in marriage among young women. We have seen fresh evidence this week of how that decline is bad news for the rising generation of children.'
Patricia Morgan, author of a series of studies on the collapse of the traditional family, said: 'Marriage is now something older couples do, often after they have had children.
A wedding has become a status symbol - something celebrities do - and it has become entirely separated from having children or money.'
She added: 'The supporters of the 60s counter-culture, the minority rights groups, people who think like Patricia Hewitt, they should all be celebrating. They have got what they wanted. But the side effects are not very nice for anybody.'
The ONS figures show that married men are still in the majority, numbering 10,863,000 from 20,694,000 over the age of 16 in 2004.
The difference between men and women is caused by the fact that men typically die younger than women. As a result there are nearly four times as many widows as widowers.