Although there was a modest (0.4%) increase in the number of marriages solemnized in places of worship in England and Wales between 2009 and 2010, it was less than the 3.7% growth in total marriages. Consequently, the proportion of marriages conducted according to religious ceremonies continued its relentless fall, standing at 31.8% in 2010, as against 32.9% in 2009. 1991 was the last year in which the majority of marriages in England and Wales were solemnized in religious ceremonies.
These findings can be extracted from the provisional marriage data for England and Wales in 2010, which were released by the Office for National Statistics on 29 February 2012 in the form of a statistical bulletin and accompanying spreadsheets (tables 1 and 4 being most relevant for our purposes). These are available at:
While the declining popularity of religious ceremonies doubtless reflects the overall weakening of faith which is evident from a wide range of religious performance measures, it is probably also partly attributable to the introduction in 1995 of ceremonies in approved premises (such as historic buildings and hotels). These have provided an alternative ‘traditional’ ambience to that offered by places of worship, combined with superior on-site catering for the reception. For the sixth consecutive year, there were fewer religious ceremonies than those in approved premises.
Of the 76,770 religious ceremonies in 2010, 73.8% took place in the Church of England or Church in Wales, 11.0% in Roman Catholic churches, 11.6% in other Christian churches, and 3.6% in places of worship of non-Christian faiths. Anglican and Catholic marriage numbers increased absolutely between 2009 and 2010, but other Christian denominations and non-Christian faiths experienced falls.
82.1% of religious ceremonies in 2010 involved a first marriage for both partners, compared with 65.9% for all marriages, suggesting that divorcees disproportionately wed in register offices or approved premises, perhaps fearing the disapproval of local clergy. A further 11.7% of religious ceremonies involved a first marriage for one partner, with 6.3% representing a remarriage for both partners (against 15.1% of all marriages).