Number of weddings falls to all-time low

01:46, Jun 18 2011

Marriage rates have fallen so far in the past 40 years that what was once an institution is now largely a symbolic gesture.

A record low 20,900 marriages took place last year, less than one-third of the number in 1971 and one half of the 1987 rate, figures from Statistics NZ reveal.

And Victoria University anthropology senior lecturer Diane O'Rourke sees no chance of those numbers heading back up again.

"People don't need to get married any more to make a living or raise children. You have to specifically want to be married."

Family lawyer Jacinda Rennie said there was no longer any legal reason to be married and the concept had become largely symbolic.

"Historically, if you were to give up work and have children, you were in a better bed if you were married. These days it is not necessary for property reasons as de-facto couples have the same rights after three years together."


Even religious leaders concede that marriage is no longer necessary. The Anglican Centre's canon theologian, Deborah Broome, said: "You can have a recognised partnership and not be married, you can be in a civil union or be in a de-facto relationship. People are still forming couples, but they are doing it differently.

"Living together just wasn't an option before, whereas now couples are already living together when they decide to commit. People don't need to get married any more, so those people choosing marriage are doing it quite consciously."

Catholic Centre family life adviser Sue Devereux said marriage was still popular in her church community, but many were already living together when they decided to get married.

"People are not getting married at such a young age any more and there is no societal pressure to get married before having children."

Celebrant Ruth Pink said marriage as a religious institution did not seem as important to her clients as it used to be, and many simply wanted to make a public declaration to family and friends.

Statistics NZ says just over 35 per cent of those who married in 1971, the peak year for weddings, had divorced by last year.

'People think hard about whether they want to be tied down'

Clint Dougan never imagined himself as a married man until he met wife Loren.

"But the more I got to know her, the more I said to myself, `She's got all the qualities I'm looking for.' Those feelings kept growing stronger and stronger until I was in no doubt."

Mr Dougan, a 35-year-old builder from Masterton, put a ring on his 28-year-old bride's finger in February. He did it because he knew she was the one and felt compelled to make it official.

He said many of his friends were "not the sort of people who would want to get tied down" – and he had been the same for a while.

"Marriage is thought of a lot like having kids is these days. People think long and hard about whether they want to be tied down by it all. A lot of people put marriage in the `too hard' basket."

The importance of agreeing to disagree

After 50 years of marriage, Warwick Crooks still remembers wife Raylene as the "luscious young blonde" behind a Briscoes counter in Dunedin – though he now likes to refer to her as the old grey-haired bag.

The couple met in 1957 and were married 3 1/2 years later. They now live in Waikanae and have six children – who are all married – and 16 grandchildren.

"We got married for love and our desire to live together," Mr Crooks said. "We both came from strict backgrounds and in those days you didn't live together until you were married, it was just a big no-no."

They agreed a secret to being happily married was to be willing to disagree. "We are both individuals and have our own opinions," Mrs Crooks said. "We disagree from time to time and that's important."

Mr Crooks thought many couples did not spend enough time together, but he and his wife still enjoyed cutting the lawns, chopping firewood and moving sheep around together.

Civil union makes a statement

Holly Walker, 28, and Dave Haines, 31, have well and truly bucked the trend. They are a straight couple who entered into a civil union in January last year.

"We didn't want to enter into an institution that our gay friends and family couldn't be part of," Ms Walker said. "But we still wanted to make a public declaration of our love and have a wedding-type celebration, because they're really fun."

The lack of "rules and protocol" surrounding a civil union ceremony was a plus. "We liked the idea that we could take the parts we liked about traditional weddings and leave the parts we didn't like.

"So, I wore a green dress and ... we walked in together, rather than me being given away, and we had it in a pub. It was pretty informal, but we still took our vows in front of everybody and made promises to each other."

Ms Walker said civil unions were a good option for those who do not agree with the religious connotations of traditional marriage.


The 2010 marriage rate was 12.5 per 1000 unmarried adults – less than one-third of the peak in 1971.

273 resident civil unions were registered, of which 73 per cent were same-sex.

Wellingtonians were more likely to register a civil union than couples in other areas.

8900 divorces were granted last year, up from 8700 in 2009.

There were 10.2 divorces for every 1000 marriages, the same as in 2009, the lowest rate since 1980.

The most common length of marriage at divorce was between five and nine years.

The Dominion Post