The influence of religion in our modern marriage process cannot be understated. Religious themes and traditions are at the heart of every wedding ceremony.
But as religion has declined among Britons (YouGov study showed that 55% of respondents didn’t associate with any religion), residents having religious ceremonies (conducting the ceremony in a place of worship and focusing on beliefs and traditions) has also seen a fall in numbers.
In today’s Stopford blog, we take a short trip through the facts around religious ceremonies across the UK.
Our sources for this post:
- England and Wales figures: Marriages in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
- Scotland figures: RGAR 19: Marriages and Civil Partnerships (nrscotland.gov.uk)*
- Northern Ireland: Marriage Statistics | Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (nisra.gov.uk)
*Please be aware that England and Wales latest statistics are from 2019, therefore we have ignored statistics for 2020 and 2021 to remain comparable.
What’s the trend for religious ceremonies?
England and Wales (total religious ceremonies 39,897):
With the latest data ending at 2019, the Office of National Statistics has reported that religious ceremonies now account for less than 1 in 5 marriages in the UK (18.2%), the lowest on record.
This follows a large decline, with 1991 being the last year in which religious ceremonies were in greater numbers than civil ceremonies.
Breaking down the statistics by denomination, 2019 saw 28,912 Church of England and Church of Wales ceremonies take place. This was the largest religious group conducting ceremonies, accounting for 72% of all religious ceremonies. As a proportion of all religious ceremonies, this has remained stable, with figures since 2009 hovering around 73%.
In the same year, Roman Catholic ceremonies recorded 4,049 ceremonies, representing 10% of all religious ceremonies conducted. This was a decline of 64% since the year 2000.
Other Christian denominations were also featured within the ONS’ report, uniting 4,793 couples. This has seen a sharper decline than its Church of England counterparts, with a 72% reduction since 2000.
For other faiths represented in the statistics, they have also declined, however remain higher than those in 1993. In 2019, 2,143 ‘Other’ religious ceremonies were conducted, accounting for 5% of all religious ceremonies.
Scotland (total religious ceremonies 7,311):
Among the faiths represented in Scotland’s figures, religious ceremonies account for 29% of total marriages.
Church of Scotland weddings are the most common religious ceremony conducted with 9%. Roman Catholic weddings represented just 4% of all ceremonies in 2019, a steep decline from 11,267 19 years earlier. Roman Catholic weddings haven’t been the only ceremonies in decline though, with the Church of Scotland dropping 80% since 2000 to 2,225.
Comparatively, Other, which represents ‘Other religions and other beliefs’, covers 16% of all ceremonies conducted and has not seen as dramatic reduction in ceremonies as their other religious counterparts. With 4,175 ceremonies in 2019, ceremonies for these beliefs have only dropped 11%, but have increased on the 2018 figure of 3,672.
Northern Ireland (total religious ceremonies 4,407):
Northern Ireland has a significantly different wedding landscape, with overall more religious ceremonies compared to civil ceremonies. In 2019, 7,255 marriages were conducted, of which, 4,407 were religious ceremonies. As a proportion of total weddings, religious ceremonies account for 61%.
Of the religions mentioned within NISRA’s report, Roman Catholic ceremonies were the most popular, with 2,216 (31%) weddings conducted in 2019. This was only 600 weddings short of the civil ceremony volume that same year (2,848) despite the slow decline since having 3,227 Roman Catholic ceremonies in 2007.
This is while both Presbyterian and Church of Ireland ceremonies had seen new record lows for ceremonies conducted (634 and 481 respectively). The fall for Presbyterian ceremonies has been particularly stark, with over 1,000+ ceremonies recorded a year pre-2014. Meanwhile, Methodist weddings have remained relatively stable, staying within the 200+ ceremonies range that has been common place since 1997 (209).
This contrasts with Other Denominations, which has seen a strong rise in ceremonies conducted. In the year 2000, 332 ceremonies were conducted for those with faiths in other denominations. This has risen 161% to 2019’s 867 ceremonies, with the highest volume on record being recorded in 2017 with 928.
When were the most religious ceremonies conducted in the UK?
This varies across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but can be broken down via their individual annual reports.
England and Wales*
For England and Wales the most religious ceremonies since 1837 (the year civil registration was introduced), occurred in 1919, where 284,081 ceremonies were recorded*.
This is far and away from the next closest placed years; 1968 (263,250); 1966 (256,995); 1967 (254,476); 1969 (253,631).
*Please note that these statistics are missing a number of years from the data set, including the years between 1934-1952 and so can’t be compared fully.
*Please note that we are basing this on the data available via the National Records of Scotland data which only goes back to 1971, so take the answer with a grain of salt.
In 1971, 29,416 religious ceremonies were recorded, the highest within the available data. This declines from this date, dropping below 20,000 in 1991.
From NISRA’s data, the year in which the most religious ceremonies took place was 1971, in which 11,416 ceremonies took place.
This is closely followed by the other years between 1966-1973, all of which recorded religious ceremonies totaling more than 10,000.
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