In his column last week, Fintan O’Toole of The Irish Times tried to argue that the institution of marriage has not declined at all in Ireland. His chief piece of evidence was that the number of marriages in Ireland has actually gone up compared with a few decades ago.
He overlooked many countervailing facts including the huge increase in the number of births outside marriage, the huge increase in cohabitation and the large increase in divorce and separation. (See here for more details)
However, let’s look a little closer at the actual rate of marriage. As mentioned, Fintan makes great play of the fact that in 1960, there were 15,465 marriages in Ireland and in 2012, there were 21,245.
Game, set and match. Actually no, far from it. Statistician John McBride has helpfully done some number crunching on marriage rates in the country since 1960 and sent us the results.
It is true that the number of marriages has increased since 1960, but overall population has increased by far more.
In 1960 the population of Ireland was 2,832,100 persons, but by 2012 it was 4,585,400, an increase of 62 percent in that 42 year period compared with a 37 percent increase in the number of marriage that took place in 2012 compared with 1960.
John then digs a little deeper. The vast majority of people get married between the ages of 20 and 49. The increase in the number of Irish people in this age group since 1960 is even bigger than the increase in the overall population.
In 1960 there were 985,800 persons in that age group and by 2012 it had jumped to 2,019,300, an increase of more than 100 percent.
So again we can see that the number of marriages taking place isn’t even close to keeping up with rates of population increase.
John points out that between 1960 and 2012 the rate of marriage among this age group fell by one third.
But even this doesn’t tell the whole story he says. As he correctly points out, in 1960 Ireland had an unusually low marriage rate anyway by European standards partly because Irish people delayed getting married until late for economic reasons.
By the early 1970s however, our marriage rate had increased significantly and was now more in line with other Western countries.
Since then the decline in the marriage rate has been extremely steep.
John says that in 1970 the approximate marriage rate was 20.96 per 1,000 persons aged 20-49, and by 2012 the approximate marriage rate for this same age group was 10.52 per 1,000, a decline of almost half.
So however you measure it, the institution of marriage is in decline in Ireland as in other Western countries and it is simply denial to say otherwise.