London (CNSNews.com) - Bucking a seven-year trend, the number of English couples choosing to marry rose almost two percent, according to the latest statistics released by the British government.
The number of marriages increased from nearly 268,000 in 2000, the last year for which full statistics are available, up from less than 264,000 tallied in 1999. The last recorded rise in marriage came in 1992.
Some commentators attributed the increase to the lure of getting married in the millennium year or to an increase in high-profile celebrity weddings. But Paula Hall, a counsellor with relationship and marriage charity Relate, said the upward swing might reflect deeper changes in British society.
"Marriage is a very public commitment and people nowadays are more open and more confident in their ability to make that commitment," Hall said by phone Wednesday. "Research has shown that committed relationships are good for family life and good for society."
The marriage rate in England is still significantly down from three decades ago, when more than 400,000 couples took their vows. Britons are still delaying marriage, with the average age rising to 34.8 years for men and 32.1 years for women. And religious ceremonies continue to decline, from more than half of all marriages in 1990 to just 36 percent in 2000.
"The concept of marriage has changed, and we can see this in the statistics for religious weddings," Hall said. "But the marriage ceremony and the institution of marriage remain popular."
Hall declined to predict whether or not the number of marriages would continue to rise.
"It's difficult to say whether it's going to keep up, but it would be nice if it would," she said.
Relate spokeswoman Angela Sibson said couples are now very interested in relationship issues. "People are influenced by pop stars and celebrities and their behavior, but I think what influences them more is a sense of their own needs and their own needs in relation to the needs of their partner," Sibson said.
Marriage health benefits
The marriage statistics were released as a British study published this week indicated that married men live longer and healthier lives, and even earn more money than singles.
Researchers at the University of Warwick studied 20,000 men over a 20-year period and found that those with wives lived an average of three years longer and earned nearly $5,000 more a year.
Andrew Oswald, an economics professor at the university, said it's possible that marriage may stimulate the immune system and prompt lifestyle changes that improve health.
"We don't fully understand how this protective mechanism works, but it is there. Marriage has some kind of profound effect on human beings, presumably because it reduces stress levels in some way and protects against illness," he said. "We have been startled by the size of the marriage effect on mortality risk."
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