It’s taken nearly two and a half years to get the numbers out.
But after a peculiarly long wait, publication of the 2013 annual marriage statistics could provide the world’s first clear evidence that marriage rates can be increased. Paradoxically, this evidence will be strongest if we see a big fall in the number of marriages.
Towards the end of April, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will finally publish the number of marriages that took place in 2013. A while ago, I asked ONS – who I admire very much by the way – to explain why it’s taken them so long. After all, they managed to publish the first gay marriage stats within just a few months. They blamed tardy church registrars. The explanation still doesn’t sound right, but there we go. It is what it is.
Anyway, what makes the new 2013 numbers particularly interesting is that they follow on from an abnormally large jump of 5% in the 2012 ones. Break this down month by month and we find that the entire boost happened during the first half of the year, when there were 14% more weddings, with only a small 1% drop in weddings recorded during the second half.
I put this down to the knock on effect of the royal wedding between William and Kate during the previous year. Remember that?
Imagine a couple sitting on their sofa, enraptured by the fairytale romance that unfolds on their TV screen. ‘Darling, let’s get married!’ they cry. With most venues booked for the following summer, an early wedding is their only sensible option. If enough couples think the same thought – and only 14,000 need to do so – hey presto, there’s a big increase in spring weddings.
Well, it’s a plausible explanation and nobody else, least of all ONS, has come up with a better one for this anomaly.
But here’s the really interesting bit.
If I am right, we might reasonably expect to see this big gain in the first half of 2012 reversed in 2013 – back down by 10-15% – with the second half of the year little changed as normal.
It’s quite likely that the media will report this as an overall 5% fall in the number of weddings. Commentators will then invent some explanation, perhaps that the fall is part of the long term downtrend (partly true, but this a trend that has levelled off during the last decade), or that nobody wants to get married in a year ending in ‘13 (demonstrably untrue if the second half figures hold up). Nobody will think much more of it.
Yet if the numbers turn out this way, they will provide what I think will be the world’s first real evidence that marriage rates can be increased by outside events.
If private decisions about marriage can be so profoundly affected by a wedding that couples watch on TV, this opens the door to the possibility that a well-framed social policy to promote marriage (because of its greater stability) has a realistic chance of influencing the behaviour of large numbers of couples.
The figures come out on 27 April. Should they reveal a big fall in 2013 spring weddings, now you’ll know why I might be surprisngly happy.
See this article First marriage rates reach all time low for my take once the actual figures came out!