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In the year ended December 31, 2001 the marriage rate fell to a new low of 14.8 per 1,000 non-married aged 16 years and over.

The rate is less than a third of the peak level of 45.5 per 1,000 in 1971.

Registered marriages in New Zealand over the 2001 period totalled 20,000, 3% fewer than in 2000. One or both partners of a previous divorce or who were widowed accounted for one in three marriages in 2001.

Many marriages are less durable. For those couples who have been married between 5 to 9 years, divorce is common. They accounted for 25% of all divorces in 2001. 30% of New Zealanders who married in 1976 had divorced before their silver anniversary (25 years).

In 2001, 9700 divorces were granted in family courts.

The 2000 divorce rate remains static with figures of 12.3 per 1,000 estimated existing marriages.

Nearly half of all divorces in 2001 involved children less than 18 years. There were an average number of 1.9 children per divorce.

New Zealanders marrying for the first time in 2001 were, on average, about six and a half years older than their counterparts in 1971, when early marriage was the norm. In 1971, 8,700 teenage girls made up 32% of all females who married, but only 3% in 2001.

Factors that have contributed to the low marriage rate in include the growth of de-facto relationships, the trend towards delayed marriage and an increasing number of New Zealanders remaining single.

Family Life Director Andy Bray believes the marriage lull is a sad indictment on society.

“There seems to be little concern expressed about the marriage decline by those in positions of influence.(Fewer marriages) are understandable as marriage is no longer portrayed as a vital part of a strong and stable society. There is little in our culture that encourages two people to make the difficult adjustments required to achieve marital oneness. Marriage for young people involves too much risk and commitment. They have a short-term outlook instead of an empowering vision of family that draws them towards building a fulfilling lasting legacy beyond their own generation. We often hear about the break down of marriages, but little emphasis is placed on the alternative cohabitation where the break up rate is much worse than the divorce rate.”

Mr Bray quotes from a Parenting with Confidence publication that shows that in Britain three out of every four de-facto relationships end, most lasting on average three years. Statistics New Zealand says they make no ongoing collection of personal relationships, except for the five-yearly census. They do, however, compile and report institutional data including marriage and divorce, which require some form of record.

The 2001 census does not have a de-facto or informal cohabitation category, but 35,751 New Zealanders described themselves as partnered, and another 300,846 are in other relationships. The total number of legal spouses living in New Zealand is 1.3 million.

One and a quarter million people have never been married, or were separated, divorced, widowed, non-partnered—not further defined, or did not state their social marital status, according to the latest Census.

[First published in Challenge Weekly, 2002]

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