Sunday, 15 February 2009
Marriage couldn't be more unattractive – the number of us getting hitched has slumped to the lowest level since records began, 150 years ago. By next year, it's predicted that singletons will be in the majority.
There are all sorts of reasons why we don't fancy tying the knot any more – and the biggest is undoubtedly cost. The average wedding now won't leave you any change from an astonishing £21,000 – twice as much as a decade ago. In a recession, anyone contemplating such financial lunacy needs to start saving years ahead, or embark on married life in debt. You could buck the trend and do it simply – but if you're participating in a dying ritual, then surely you'll want it to be memorable?
No wonder the age we get married has risen over the years, to 30 for women and 31 for men – about 10 years older than our parents. Another factor in the decline of marriage is the lack of tax incentives – why bother going through with it if you're no better off? Labour has been so anxious not to discriminate against single mothers and one-parent families, and so keen to provide financial assistance to the disadvantaged, that they've omitted to sufficiently reward those who are in a stable relationship, raising children within the framework of a marriage. The result? Young women who have kids and claim housing benefit without marrying, and who marginalise men.
A long-term partnership like marriage is not an attractive option; they want to live without the restrictions of a full-time, live-in partner. Instead, they have a series of relationships, producing children who treat a succession of men as temporary dads.
By contrast, a couple in their twenties contemplating marriage have almost no chance of finding a place to live that they can afford to buy. After school or college, young people are stuck at home for longer than any previous generation (their grandparents would have buggered off at 16 or 18). They're living in their childhood bedrooms – with a smaller living space than many prisoners – and thousands are crippled with massive student loans. Last week, graduates were told to set their sights low, if they wanted work, so what chance of ever affording the luxury of a wedding? It all begins to sound like something you only see in the movies. And if it takes you longer to leave home, get a job and finally taste independence, who'd want to chuck it all up to get hitched? Doesn't sound that appealing somehow.
The church can bleat on about marriage being a "life-time commitment" but that's not how people think these days. In an age of social networking, speed dating and internet chat-rooms, young people are genuinely confused about what constitutes a relationship, let alone one that's supposed to last more than a couple of months.
Peaches Geldof's short-lived marriage to New York musician Max Drummey is typical – it lasted only 186 days. Apparently her elder sister, Fifi, read they had decided to divorce on the internet, and was the family member who told father. But I don't blame Peaches; she's just 19, and Max 24. I went through a bonkers marriage to an unsuitable young man in Las Vegas which didn't last as long as they managed, and I was 49 at the time.
Another reason why we're shunning marriage is the expense of splitting up. If you make a mistake, or just get bored with each other, the only people who benefit are the lawyers. There's a lot to be said for Islamic law – sharia – and just saying "I divorce thee" three times; it would certainly have saved me many thousands of pounds. Are men being put off marriage because of the large settlements some high-profile wives such as Karen Parlour and Heather Mills McCartney have managed to win in recent years? I'm not sure, because the number of men who then go on and remarry a woman who just looks like a younger version of their first wife is definitely on the increase. In divorce, ultimately it's middle-aged women who suffer the most, because their chances of remarriage are very slim indeed.
Marriage is going out of fashion for a variety of reasons, and I don't think things will change. I just hope we don't all end up poor, single and alone in our old age, with only a load of old photos of the fun times along the way to keep us company, because that's the future for the me-generation.
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